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Vaccine stories from Grandma, tikka masala to-go, jazz from Queens

Photo: Nitin Mukul

Dear Neighbor,

We hope you are safe, warm and full of hot chocolate (or toddies) this week.

You’ve probably heard that getting a Covid vaccine in New York City is becoming harder. Alarms of low supply and unclear registration systems have left eligible New Yorkers without appointments, and others anxious about getting theirs. So far, about 800,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have been administered in our city.

Photo: Leonor Pacheco

Epicenter-NYC writer Jade Stepeney spoke with seven seniors, 65+, across New York City, who have gotten their first dose. Bonus: We couldn’t talk to our elderly neighbors without getting some life advice from folks who have seen a lot of life.

A retired nurse, Leonor Pacheco, 96, had no reservations about getting vaccinated. “I knew exactly what to expect,” she said.

She told us her primary care provider not only encouraged her to get an appointment, but helped her make one.  “Don’t be afraid,” her doctor said, comforting Pacheco after she struggled to secure a slot through government websites.

With the most challenging part over, Pacheco headed to Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn. “My son-in-law drove and my daughter was my assistant!” she said through laughter.

From there, the experience was seamless. Enter the building, follow the arrows on the floor and wait your turn. Pacheco says the actual vaccine was painless, and medical staff and personnel exceeded her expectations. “They are very organized over there,” she said. After getting the vaccine, “you wait for a half-hour to see if you react, then you leave.”

We asked Pacheco if she had any advice for others thinking of getting vaccinated. “It’s the only thing we have,” she said.

Her life advice: “Don’t be afraid.”

Photo: Wendy Young

Wendy Young, 80, got the vaccine because it was “the right thing to do.”

“I heard on the radio that some people had reactions,” she said. “I was doubtful at first.”

Her children were there to put her worries aside. “A strong support system is very important,” she said. “They were all telling me, ‘Mommy, it’s safe.’ If they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have taken it as soon as I did.” Young’s children, who work in the medical field, have all been vaccinated.

Young also had trouble making an appointment. “I don’t have a computer,” she said. “My son made it for me because it’s so complicated.”

From her Forest Hills home, Young took the subway to Mount Sinai on 10th Avenue in Manhattan.

“I went to the appointment by myself because I didn’t want to bother my son,” she said. “He would have had to take a day off.”

Young told us the process was quick and easy. Her only worry now is getting the second shot in a few weeks. “I check with my son to see if my appointment is still there,” she said. “I always have to make sure.”

Life advice: “Have a positive mind and everything will fall into its right place. Eat healthy, exercise and don’t worry so much.”

Photo: Carmen & Miriam Herrera

Some New Yorkers are less anxious about the future than others. Carmen, 68, and Miriam Mogollon Herrera, 69, got their vaccine together at a school in the Bronx. Miriam spoke on behalf of both. So how was it?

“Fantastica!” she said.

“There was a translator as soon as we walked in,” she said. “The whole thing only took about 20 minutes.”

The sisters are scheduled to receive their second dose later this month. “We’re so happy there is a vaccine,” Miriam said. “Science is here to help. This is the best they can do to stop the pandemic.”

She thought back to her childhood, reflecting on the attentiveness their mother gave them. “We’ve only reached this age because of the vaccines our mother [took us to get] when we were younger,” she said. “[The Covid vaccine] is an opportunity.”

Life advice: “This is for everyone, but especially for Spanish speakers: Study. We live in a country full of opportunities.”

Photo: Niamh McDonnell

Army veteran Joseph Younghans, 89, from Long Island, recalled getting the Polio vaccine in the ’50s. “I grew up having vaccines for diseases,” he said. Covid-19 is no different. “My family felt I better get [the vaccine] to protect myself. I thought it was something I had to do.”

Younghans spoke to us through his “best granddaughter,” Niamh. She made the appointment and accompanied her grandfather to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens.

“It was just like a regular needle,” Younghans said. “I heard a lot of people had trouble, but I didn’t have a thing. Thank God.”

Life advice: “Be careful. Be honest. Make the best of tough times.”

Photo: @culturelablic

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OUT & ABOUT

Winter Jazz Fest: Join a jazz live stream for the last three Tuesdays of the month. Queens Jazz OverGround, in partnership with Culture Lab LIC, is hosting and starting with the Adam Hutcheson Quartet and the Sharif Kales Quintet, featuring Jessica Golden, Tuesday, Feb. 9, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Learn more and read about the performers here.

Photo: Lauren Shin

Lunar New Year Crawl: Send Chinatown Love, an organization that was born during the early days of the pandemic to help immigrant-run businesses who were struggling to access government loans, has launched a Lunar New Year Crawl to help support Asian-owned small businesses. For the month of February, for every three receipts from participating vendors, you will be entered into a raffle. Check out participating restaurants here.

Black History Month with the NYPL: The New York Public Library is hosting a virtual event Tuesday, Feb. 9 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., about “Four Hundred Souls,” a one-volume “community” history of African Americans from 1916 to present. Join the book’s editors, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, and several contributors for readings from the collection, as well as a discussion about what it takes to develop a community history, by a community. Advance registration required. You can order “Four Hundred Souls” from the Schomburg Shop, all proceeds will benefit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

District 24 special election: Today is the day! (Despite candidates requests to delay polling due to extreme snow. In-person learning and Covid-19 vaccines were put on hold until tomorrow) In-person voting to replace former City Councilman Rory Lancman runs until 9 p.m. this evening. You can find your poll site here. This is the first New York City election that will employ ranked choice voting. Need a last-minute refresher on how it works? We’ve got you covered.

Photo: @hiba_schahbaz

Art Sundae: New Yorkers of all ages can join a free digital watercolor portrait workshop with artist Hiba Schahbaz on tomorrow, Feb. 3, beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Rockefeller Center’s Instagram page. Following the workshop, children (sorry adults) can submit their artwork to be included in a future public art showcase. Those who want to participate can drop off their work in an envelope to the 30 Rockefeller Plaza info desk or by email to staff@artproductfund.org by Monday, Feb. 8.

Photo: @mta

MTA honors employees lost to Covid-19: The more than 100 MTA employees who lost their lives to Covid-19 are being honored in a new memorial, “Travels Far.” Their photos will be displayed on digital screens at 107 train stations, plus Grand Central Terminal and the new Moynihan Train Hall at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. daily through Sunday, Feb. 7. You can also watch the memorial, which is named after an original poem written by former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith, online. View participating subway stations here.

Photo: @jacksonheightscommunityfridge

GIVE & GET HELP

Have a car? Community fridges throughout the city need drivers who can devote about three hours per week to help transport available food. If interested, email queensfridges718@gmail.com to get connected to your local fridge.

Brooklynites: Need a hand shoveling all that snow? Consider hiring a day laborer from your community. To connect, call or text the Worker’s Justice project at (718) 600-0425 or email info@workersjustice.org.

Photo: Nitin Mukul

Bike parts wanted: Brooklyn Ayuda Mutua is seeking bike parts for upcoming free bike repair events for delivery workers and area families. It needs: tubes, tires, cables, chains, brake pads, helmets, lights, bells and horns, fenders, patch kits, u-locks, chain lube and bar tape. To coordinate a donation, email bushwickayudamutua@gmail.com.

Free citizenship assistance: Are you or someone you know in the process of applying for citizenship? Make the Road New York is offering free legal assistance to New York City residents who are in the application process. Call (718) 565-8500 (Queens) or (718) 418-7690 (Brooklyn) to make an appointment.

Photo: Studio 20

SMALL BIZ SPOTLIGHT

You may have noticed that we recently launched a new initiative: Every other week we will be featuring a small business owner in Jackson Heights, Queens, to learn how they are managing through the pandemic and how they are preparing for coming months. If you live in or visit Jackson Heights, we hope you will consider showing these businesses some love — they are working hard to survive.

This community reporting project is produced in partnership with the New York University Studio 20 graduate program. Each business owner profiled will then refer another small business owner in the area, creating a chain of connections throughout the community. This week we are highlighting Jackson Diner.

Photo: @jackson_diner

What Jackson Diner does: Jackson Diner, a culinary staple in the Jackson Heights community, is beloved both by locals and out-of-towners for its delicious, authentic north Indian food and, prior to Covid-19, its affordable buffet-style lunch. Some of the most popular dishes on the menu include chicken tikka masala, samosas, tandoori chicken and saag paneer. The restaurant, which opened in 1983, is a trailblazer in the Indian restaurant rush the neighborhood is known for.

How it survived: Owner Manjit Singh works tirelessly to keep the restaurant afloat. With just a few minutes to spare between taking phone calls, preparing food orders, directing staff, and keeping the business running, Manjit says it’s been difficult to cover the restaurant’s usual expenses, despite the few federal loans he’s received. In fear of contracting the virus, six of his 12 employees stopped showing up to work in March. Manjit says he picked up their shifts. He drives roughly 30 minutes from his home in New Hyde Park, where he lives with his wife and three adolescent sons, to get to work. Jackson Diner never closed its doors in the early stages of the pandemic —Manjit quickly pivoted to delivery and pick-up orders only. Most of these orders are received through apps like Grubhub, Seamless, and DoorDash — companies that take up to 30% of commission fees per order. Occasionally, Manjit sends one of his staff to hand-deliver food to local customers who live within a five- to six-block radius of the restaurant.

When the restaurant shut down indoor dining in March, Manjit says he held out hope. But now, almost a year into the pandemic, he worries about recuperating his losses. “In the restaurant business, if you have one bad weekend or a bad week, we’re done for the month – we’re not going to make money. High expense of labor, rent, taxes — it’s very high. Now this – we’re having a bad year. So, I don’t even want to think about it. How are we going to recover from this, you know?” Manjit now takes between 30 to 50 orders a day, a sizable decrease from the 100 or so customers he served daily before the virus struck. “The beverage sales are the main killer for us,” he says — not just for Jackson Diner but for the restaurant industry as a whole. While some patrons occasionally order mango lassis or a can of coke, Manjit says customers at home tend not to order drinks with their meals, which has killed a significant portion of revenue. Manjit attributes the restaurant’s survival to the status of the diner amongst its patrons. The restaurant has “sentimental value” to the community, which he believes keeps customers coming.

Photo: Studio 20

What Manjit Singh wants you to know: Manjit, who took ownership of the restaurant from his father in 1998, has a lot of faith in Jackson Diner. When asked if he thought the restaurant might have to close down due to expenses, he shook his head firmly. “I don’t think like that. If I wanted to think like that, I would have been sitting in my backyard in April. I wouldn’t have been coming here.”

Why you should visit: Beyond the reasonable prices and the flavorful dishes, Jackson Diner is a mainstay of the community’s culinary history. When Manjit’s father, Gian Singh, opened the restaurant in 1983, there were only three Indian stores in Jackson Heights – one other restaurant, one appliance store, and one clothing store, Manjit said. Jackson Diner was an American-Greek owned restaurant at the time, and it was going out of business. When Gian bought the restaurant, Manjit says the former owner was puzzled. “He said, you know, why are you buying a restaurant in Jackson Heights? There’s no business here.” But his father, undeterred, bought the restaurant, kept the name, and slowly started phasing north Indian dishes into the menu — recipes he learned from his upbringing in Punjab. One of Manjit’s favorite items from the menu is the paneer pasanda, a flavorful vegetarian dish that he enjoys cooking at home for his family.

Over time, the restaurant became a hub for the South Asian diaspora, who immigrated in large numbers to Queens in the late 1970s after the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act was enacted, lifting a previously established 100-person annual quota on Indian immigrants in the United States. Manjit’s father was himself part of that immigration — he brought his family to New York from Nawanshahr, a small town in the state of Punjab, India in the late 1970s. Upon arriving in New York, Gian first settled down in Elmhurst, Queens, which Manjit says was a popular area for Indian immigrants at the time.

While Jackson Heights is now home to a melting pot of South Asian and Latin American stores, restaurants, and businesses, Jackson Diner is known and revered as a pioneer among Indian restaurants—and the South Asian community.

You can check out Jackson Diner’s menu here.

Location: 37-47 74th Street, Jackson Heights, NY 11372

Nomination for the next business: Sona Mandi Jewelers

This week, in our sister newsletter about schools, The Unmuted, we get the inside scoop on Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s new Homework Helpers Program. Make sure you’re subscribed — it goes out every Thursday morning. In other education news:

Where have all the students gone? New York City public schools — while still the largest in the nation — have experienced a 4% drop in enrollment. That’s about 43,000 students, which could have an impact on funding, especially when it comes to state aid.

A week of action: Students around New York City are participating in the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. The “week of action” always coincides with Black History Month, but this year it takes on a special meaning after the events of 2020: protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic’s inordinate impact on people of color and of course, politics.

Photo:@wollmanrink

DAY-TRIPPING

Get your Brian Boitano on with some outdoor ice-skating this winter. Luckily, there are a few Covid-friendly outdoor options in the city. Bryant Park’s famous rink has hourly time slots for $21 to $26 that must be purchased online ahead of time. They often sell out in advance so plan ahead. You can skate for free if you bring your own ice-skates but those slots are even tougher to come by. There are no lockers this year and you have to pay extra for bag check so travel light. Tickets come with a small, drawstring bag you can throw your shoes in and wear while skating. Masks are mandatory. Other outdoor options include Central Park’s large Wollman Rink, which is first-come, first-serve, and LeFrak Center at Lakeside Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which also requires advance reservations for 90-minute slots.

Vandana Jain, Turn On, Tune Out, wall painting, 2016

LAST WORD 

We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us. If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.

Vandana Jain, Pyramid Scheme (detail), stuffed plastic bags sewn into bones and hung from gold chain, 2018

This week, we welcome Vandana Jain. Jain is an artist and textile designer based in Brooklyn. She received her Bachelor’s from New York University and went on to study Textile Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her work explores the intersections of pattern and symbol, and spirituality and consumerism.

Jain’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. In the last few years, she has had solo projects at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo (2018); Lakeeren Gallery in Mumbai, India (2012); Station Independent Projects, Lower East Side (2013); and Smack Mellon and BRIC House in Brooklyn (2014).

Vandana Jain, Double Happiness, 10 x 5.5 ft., paper tape on wall, 2016

She has received several awards for her work including the Emerging Artist’s Fellowship at Socrates Sculpture Park, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency, and the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant. Her work has been profiled in Artforum, The New York Times, Art Slant, Mumbai Boss, Kyoorius and Beautiful Decay.

Jain says “My work recontextualizes the rich visual symbolic language surrounding us to comment on capitalism, globalization and consumerism. I often use labor-intensive and handworked techniques to contrast with the clean aesthetic and design of corporate brands and national flags. Some questions that I am addressing include the voice of the individual in contemporary society, the relationship of the spiritual to the commercial, and the larger political and economic power structures at play.”

To see more of Jain’s work, visit her Instagram page and website.

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