Just three days after the observance of Guyana’s 55th anniversary independence, a spectacular event was held in the heart of Richmond Hill, Queens, to co-name a street after the large Guyanese community. The program was held on the compound of Leo Kearns on Lefferts, a mere 100 feet from the new signage on Liberty Ave. It was emceed by Annetta Seecharan of Bloomfield, Corentyne, and District Leader Richard David.
Hundreds of Guyanese braved cold weather and rain for the official naming of the Street. Liberty Ave, at the corner of Lefferts Blvd, was co-named Little Guyana Avenue as of May 29, 2021. As the Council Member for the area, Adrienne Thomas remarked, as one goes downstairs from the Subway Station at the last stop on the A train, they will see “Little Guyana Ave”. Liberty Avenue has been officially co-named ‘Little Guyana’ to honour the immense contributions made by Guyanese Americans to the area.
The street co-naming was made possible through the excellent work of Council Member Adrienne Adams who has developed a close link with the large Guyanese community. She earlier played a major role in getting streets co-named Punjabi Way and Gurudwara Way. On June 26, Pandit Ramlall Way will be unveiled at 133rd. Street and Little Guyana (Liberty Ave). Councilwoman Adams is married to a Guyanese.
Little Guyana Avenue was an initiative of a handful of Guyanese that included Chuck Mohan, Vassan Ramracha, and several leaders in the community, that started during the 1980s. It has taken a long time to come to fruition because the community lacked significant political clout. Politicians are listening now because of voting strength and political maturity of the community and increasing activism of several Guyanese. Increasing numbers of Guyanese in greater Richmond Hill are getting involved in politics and American politicians are paying attention to the growing Guyanese community.
Indian Guyanese and Trinidadians have profoundly impacted on greater Richmond Hill since the late 1970s. Liberty Avenue has long been referred to as Little Guyana given the large Guyanese and Trinidadian population living and operating businesses there. In fact, the wider Richmond Hill area in Queens, by extension, has earned this title for being home to the largest Guyanese community outside of Guyana.
Over succeeding decades, Guyanese and Trinis have become the cornerstone of the area with incredible achievements and accomplishments. In the area are several Guyanese businesses including groceries (offering Guyanese related traditional items), and restaurants, medical and legal offices, vegetable and fruit stores, and garment stores, among others. Little Guyana Avenue came about largely through the work of Richard David, Ashook Ramsaran, and Dhanpaul Narine, among a few others. It was made possible by Council Member Adrienne Adams. All of them addressed the gathering and recognized the work of those who came before in promoting the idea of Little Guyana.
The renaming or co-naming of Richmond Hill is extremely meaningful to the community. Over the past four decades, Richmond Hill has been heavily populated with Indian Guyanese (and Trinidadians) from all walks of life who have contributed to the overall development of the area which falls within the City Council’s 28th District represented by Ms. Adams.
The event to unveil the sign was formally opened with Muslim, Hindu and Christian invocations. Then community advocate and educator Dr Dhanpaul Narine gave a brief history of Guyanese in Richmond Hill and their contributions to the vitality of Richmond Hill and a city in all sectors.
This was followed by short speeches by community leaders and politicians including from mandirs and masjids. Ashook Ramsaran of Indian Diaspora Council remarked that, “New York has been good for Guyanese, and Guyanese have contributed to the vitality of the city. We have nurtured strong roots here, and established ourselves with remarkable successes. Such is the nature of a Guyanese – making it better with each journey, seeking opportunities, thriving, excelling in pursuits, peaceful co-existence and contributing to betterment of ourselves and the community. And we take enormous pride in this history and achievement”.
Several prominent personalities from the community as well as politicians graced the street naming program event. This is the first occasion where so many political leaders were present including the Mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, who did the unveiling of the street sign. Before the unveiling, every speaker recognized and praised the contributions of the community. The Councilwoman said “Guyanese will always have a seat at the table in New York. “I call this place the Great 28 (after the District), and that’s because you’ve made it great”.
She said that the co-naming of the avenue seeks to honor the achievements of the Guyanese-American community, which continues to make indelible contributions to the United States (US), particularly in the Richmond Hill area. She said Guyanese immigrants have left their mark not only culturally, but economically as well. “We have families that thrive here; that are proud,” She also lauded the spirit of volunteerism that continue to permeate throughout the Guyanese-American community.
The Councilwoman said that the official co-naming of Little Guyana is merely a token of America’s appreciation for everything that Guyanese immigrants have done to add to the development of the country. “The signage will be installed as a reminder of the accomplishments and long legacy of community building that our families have contributed”.
Similar sentiments were shared by Gregory Meeks, who Chairs the US Congress’ Foreign Relations Committee. Meeks praised the community for its many contributions. Meeks is married to a Guyanese. Congressman Meeks visited Guyana just before the March 2020 election and played a very important role in free and fair elections in Guyana. He then called on the political parties to accept the outcome of the recount of votes last year.
Meeks said that the presence of Guyanese in Queens has made New York City a better place. “The United States is a better place because of you. America would not be America today without the contributions of Guyanese immigrants who continue to be a vibrant component of the Richmond Hill area”.
The message of Guyana government and President Ali was conveyed by Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud. He applauded the work of the diaspora in the fight for democracy. And he also commended Congressman Meeks for his role in preservation of democracy in Guyana. Persaud said that the installation of the ‘Little Guyana’ signage was a momentous occasion which was appropriately timed just days after Guyana celebrated its 55th Independence Anniversary. He said that the ceremony gives important recognition to Guyana and the thousands of Guyanese who have made the United States their home. He urged the Guyanese diaspora in the US to ensure that ‘Little Guyana’ is able to live up “to what people expect of Guyana.” He also urged that the signage be a constant reminder of their homeland and the importance of their participation in building a thriving South American nation. Persaud also referenced the role of overseas-based Guyanese in ensuring that Guyana maintains its electoral integrity. “The diaspora was at the forefront in fighting for democracy”. He said that “Without democracy, we could not be talking about the plans we have and the transformation taking place.” Persaud encouraged the Guyanese in New York to think more about Guyana and keep the Golden Arrowhead very much high. “…and be proud that the decision-makers are recognising you and our community”.
Also delivering remarks was Gregg Bishop, the NYC Commissioner of Small Business is an Afro-Guyanese from Linden, who applauded the Mayor’s recognition of the talents of Guyanese. He introduced the Mayor.
The Mayor Bill de Blasio also showered accolades on the community. He noted that Guyanese are making immense contributions to life in New York. Several work for him including in high profile positions. Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the Guyanese community for their contribution to the development of the city, noting that this recognition is well-deserved.
“You have earned this day for all you have done for this city and for this country”. He added: The Guyanese community is also contributing to the leadership of New York City in a big way.
I am not just Mayor of New York City; I am Mayor of the largest Guyanese community outside of Guyana and I’m proud of that because this community has done so much. But I’ve heard from community members too often feeling unseen and forgotten in the context of this great metropolis but I want to say, I see you; I respect you and I appreciate you. And I want to make sure that today is one of the many things we do to fully acknowledge the strength and importance of this community,” the Mayor noted.
He further added that the Guyanese community represents the possibility of diverse people coming together as one, which he said is what New York City stands for as well.
Among other attendees who make remarks were State Assemblyman Jennifer Rajkumar, Queens Borough President Richard Donovan, NYS Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson and Dep. Borough President Rhonda Binda. Attendees were treated with several performances including from popular Guyanese artiste, Terry Gajraj. The Mayor cheered his tune.
Following the mayor’s remarks, the Mayor and others were escorted by tassa drumming to the street to unveil the sign. Following the unveiling, guests were treated to doubles and beverage at a corner Guyanese restaurant. And back at the Kearns parking lot, attendees were treated to Guyanese pine tart and mithai.
Also, present at the unveiling ceremony was Guyana’s Public Affairs Minister, Kwame McKoy who engaged the politicians.
It was a very happy day for Guyanese New Yorkers. Attendees feel very proud of the co-naming of the area as it now gives recognition to the community. Historically, America is a nation of immigrants – the country is the creation of immigrants. Nationalities settled in particular communities. Indo-Guyanese follow the same pattern or tend that drive all communities in the US. Richmond Hill had become an Indo-Guyanese neighborhood. Guyanese New Yorkers sought recognition. They approached politicians to represent their interests. Finally, this recognition of Little Guyana has come their way.