It was over thirty years ago that I began to see marked changes in the Corona neighborhood where I was born and raised. There was a rise in drug-related crimes as the demographics drastically changed. The people I grew up with had moved away and I no longer felt a sense of community. I went from being a native to feeling like an interloper, so it was time for me to also move.
I landed in Flushing and soon noticed that my new neighborhood was changing rapidly, too. Greedy owners were over-developing the area and destroying the architectural integrity of the community. Flushing became inundated with too many people and was overcrowded and noisy. Today it is challenging to negotiate through traffic at any time. Too many cars, too many buses, too much congestion. Walking down Main Street, Kissena Boulevard or Roosevelt Avenue can be overwhelming. The crowds bump into you so that it’s like trying to avoid a wave at the beach. Just way too many people!
I remember a time in Flushing when the local post office on Main Street would acknowledge and celebrate Christmas by placing and decorating a Christmas tree on its lawn. Santa Claus would distribute gifts to all the children – American-born and immigrant children alike. Oh, the sweet joy! Sadly, the Main Street Post Office stopped acknowledging Christmas in 2002 because it is no longer politically correct to do such a thing.
On a boulder in front of the Main Street Post Office is an engraved plaque with all the names of those soldiers from Flushing killed in WWII. A wreath-laying ceremony was performed every Memorial and Veterans Days for decades. It stopped in the late 1990s. No one pays attention to the Memorial in Flushing now. Many years ago, the Flushing Post Office acted as a community center, celebrating who we are. Now, the Post Office makes no mention of American holidays. I often wonder what happened to the culture and community I once knew.
Introduction to Maspeth
Twenty-five years or so ago, a friend said to me, “You should go to Maspeth if you want to see a real American tribute to our armed forces on Memorial Day.” So, I did. I was standing alone in a crowd, but not for long. Most people were amiable and were respectful of American history, culture, and traditions.
Yes, in Maspeth, I saw homage paid to those Americans who gave their all for our nation. I felt I was part of the event. I never thought, nor did I imagine, that I would become a part of this beautiful community. But soon I found myself marching in every Memorial Day Parade for more than a decade, dressed in an original homespun American Revolutionary War soldier’s uniform, carrying either a black powder musket or a Revolutionary flag. I always made sure I was here in New York City for the parade and arranged my trips so they didn’t conflict with Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade and other events. At every post-parade ceremony, I recite poetry.
Every week before the 9/11 anniversary, Maspeth also honors the first responders, firemen from the Hazmat Unit of Maspeth, who lost a most significant number of firemen on that day. At this event, I read several poems, too. This is my way of showing my respect, reverence and paying homage to those fallen firemen.
On the 375th anniversary celebration of Maspeth’s birthday, I penned the poem that appears on the back cover of this magazine entitled, “Maspeth Marches On,” and recited it at the event. Ken Rudzewick acknowledged me as Maspeth’s poet laureate, and Congress Member Grace Meng congratulated me on my newly designated title at the end of the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony.
Later in 2017, Maspeth honored me in its Memorial Day booklet with a full-page story about my poetry being sculpted into marble in Italy, and how I’ve shared my poems at the Maspeth Memorial Day Parade and 9/11 Memorial Ceremonies. I was most gratified.
At the 2018 Memorial Day ceremony, Ken once more introduced me as Maspeth’s poet laureate. I again read “Maspeth Marches On,” this time in the rain.
The very first time I viewed Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade more than 25 years ago, I found a home. I went to Maspeth to find solace and experienced an authentically American community. I remember speaking to an American veteran of the Korean War. He came in all the way from Long Island just to see the parade. Like me, he was not from Maspeth, but he told me this parade touched his heart and made him feel that what he did over there in the “forgotten war” was not in vain. This Korean War Veteran appreciated the ceremony and was happy the soldiers and the Marines were honored. This made him feel whole. I, too, felt the pride, dignity, and joy at experiencing something genuinely American. Only those who have a great love for their country, like the hundreds who marched in the parade and those who cheered them on from the sidelines, actually understand. Viewing the parade so many years ago gave me a place where I can hang my hat.
I will continue to march in every Memorial Day Parade in Maspeth for as long as I live and am healthy. Maspeth in some respects reminds me of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. Maspeth has that sense of community.
I found out who I am in Maspeth. When I depart this beautiful world, I hope Maspeth will list my name on the Walkway of Honor. What a tribute that would be! I may not live there, but Maspeth is where my heart is.