As the most diverse borough in New York City, Queens has a lot to offer in terms of culture and authenticity. One day, the interns and I decided to stop by the traveling street fair a few blocks from our building in Queens where local vendors come to provide a taste of their respective cultures.
Our mouths watered and eyes goggled as we saw the line of food trucks and shopping tents lining the street. We were brand new to New York and hardly knew each other, but we knew our international adventures in this city were just beginning.
The summer fair stretched for over 10 blocks, offering food and shop items from around the world. As natural foodies looking for lunch, we eyed the food trucks first. The spices from the taco truck mingled with the smoke of the meat for gyros, creating a smell as diverse and interesting as the families strolling through the tents. We found the whole world on one street with lobster trucks, Greek bakeries, South African delicacies, Brazilian desserts and everything in between.
We made small talk with many of the cooks who liked to chat and crack jokes as they prepared our food and several of them laughed at the two white girls who couldn’t handle the spicy food. Most of them were first, second or third generation immigrants who continued using their homemade recipes to bring in a few dollars during the afternoon to provide for their families.
The shopkeepers seemed less chatty and more focused as they tried to keep business flowing into their tents. In one stall, an African woman sat quietly in the back waiting for someone to approach her with a deal for one of her weaved baskets, while across the way a Middle-Eastern man yelled the wares for his sunglasses in the streets. A block down, several East-Asian women approached random people with shoulder massages, trying to invite people into their mobile massage parlor. Many tents sold homemade or imported goods, while others offered services or special foods with free samples. It seemed each tent was a window into the culture from where the shopkeepers came.
In our time since the market, I have come to realize this was only a sample of what New York has to offer. Even in our own little neighborhood, we have numerous family-owned shops and restaurants that provide great deals and fun times. They are often small, a little dinky, and only accept cash, but many of them have become our go-to places to hang out and eat or shop, and they add a unique flavor to the city you do not see elsewhere.
These spots allow visitors to connect with so many different cultures on common grounds. One of the reasons I have come to love the city includes how easy I can step out into other cultures and try new things. Living among the diaspora, I am challenged to relate to different kinds of people and to learn how to show them the Gospel. It humbles me every time and reminds me how the Gospel is able to transcend any culture or circumstance to reach the hearts and souls of anyone.
So the next time you are in New York, be sure to check out the local shops and take advantage of any upcoming street fairs.