The 'practical visionary' of Long Island City
by Crystal Wolfe
May 18, 2018 | 606 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mark Christie has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to the improvement of Queens. Christie, who came to New York City in 1981, has lived in Woodside, Corona, and now resides on the 25th floor of the Citylights Building in Long Island City. He is a founding member of the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and president of the Hunters Point Community Development Corporation. He helped to design the park at the LIC Landing, "down to the lawn chairs that were chosen." Hunters Point Parks Conservancy was originally formed as the Friends of the Gantry in 1998 by a group of dedicated Long Island City residents determined to improve the quality of life on the waterfront in Long Island City. This year the park will celebrate its 20th Anniversary. Frank Raffaele, owner of COFFEED, has worked with Christie for many years to expand the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy. "Mark Christie is a legend and a pillar of Queens,” he said. “From our parks to our libraries, his advocacy, knowledge, and persistence has helped transform the landscape of our neighborhood. Most importantly, his heart is as big as his love for all residents of Queens." Christie is also the head gardener of community gardens in Long Island City. "I've worked hard to make the garden what it is today," he said. Christie is president of the Friends of Hunters Point Library, which he started advocating for in 1999. The library is set to open sometime next year. Christie is passionate about creating an after-school program in the community to help youth stay out of trouble. "Build libraries not jails," he said. "See the library as a community. We are the eyes and ears of the community, we need to know the needs of the community. “We are rich in culture in Long Island City,” he added. “We will have an auditorium to showcase the vibrancy that exists at Hunters Point. This library will be the jewel of Queens." Christie has been honored by borough presidents Helen Marshall and Melinda Katz for his activism in the community. He was also the recipient of the Fred Cres Green Parks Award and recognized for planting ten blocks of daffodils in Long Island City on the day of the New York Marathon in remembrance of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks. "People like him are what make New York City the greatest place on earth," said Raffaele.
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Free legal assistance program for immigrants extended
by Mark Garzon
May 18, 2018 | 210 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In light of recent immigration and housing issues, State Senator Jose Peralta announced that $50,000 in state funding will be allocated to the CUNY School of Law's Community Legal Resources Network to continue free legal services for immigrants and tenants. The program, which was launched in partnership with the law school last November, has counseled more than 150 cases related to immigration and housing in Peralta’s district. “Clearly there's a need for these services,” he said. Peralta explained that many residents in his district live in uncertainty due to the Trump administration’s actions, and newer issues such as the 2020 Census, Temporary Protected Status and travel bans. He said many people who worry daily about immigration, including fears of being kicked out of their homes, seek legal advice. “To have those types of answers really go far in putting people at ease in their daily lives,” he said. According to Peralta, his office has uncovered several cases of housing discrimination just last year alone. In one instance, a property owner didn’t rent to a mother because she had children. In another case, a landlord demanded proof of citizenship from his tenants before he renewed their leases. “Simply put, this has just been outrageous,” he said. The legal team working at Peralta's office consists of Raquel Batista and Phillip Azachi, both CUNY Law School alumni. Batista, who graduated in 2003 and specializes in immigration, has handled over 60 immigration cases related to family-based petitions, eligibility for status, adjustment to citizenship and deportation issues. She explained it was important to offer legal services in the community to help people learn about available resources, and to understand what attorneys do, especially due to the presence of people who take advantage of immigrants. “This gives them an opportunity to really understand what’s ahead of them and what they should expect and be able to really access services in the city,” she said. Azachi, who specializes in housing, has seen more than 90 people and handled cases such as landlords refusing to make basic repairs, holdovers in two-family homes and other issues. “We're hoping that with continued access to justice, these people can live normal lives, have normal housing, and continue to turn Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona into the special place that it is,” he said.
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The Woman Who Teaches ESL at P.S. 70
by Nancy A. Ruhling
May 18, 2018 | 202 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Yamina teaches English as a second language to second graders at P.S. 70.
Yamina teaches English as a second language to second graders at P.S. 70.
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Can’t tell the twins apart? Neither can Sami. Sufi’s on the right.
Can’t tell the twins apart? Neither can Sami. Sufi’s on the right.
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Sami, who is 2, likes to play with cars.
Sami, who is 2, likes to play with cars.
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When you have three children under the age of four, it’s not always easy to get out the door on time. But Yamina Islam-Haque’s got this. She’s an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at P.S. 70, and being in charge of a classroom of second graders has made her an astute student of childhood behavior. Ruby and Sufi, her three-and-a-half-year-old twin daughters (Sufi, for some reason, keeps proclaiming that she’s only two and a half), and her 2-year-old son Sami (who can’t tell Ruby and Sufi apart so calls them Api, which means sister in Urdu), are chattering – and running – at high volume and velocity. Yamina, whose big brown eyes have been tracking them like GPS as she talks, corrals them, and with the help of her husband, Faheem Haque, bundles them into their coats for a walk, which becomes more like an errant race. It’s Saturday, so the siblings are super excited because mommy and daddy don’t go to work and can devote the entire day to them. During the week, Sami stays with Faheem, who works from their East Elmhurst home, and a babysitter, and the girls are cared for by Yamina’s parents, who live a short drive from P.S. 70. This, Yamina hopes, is the last school year things will be so hectic: In September, Ruby and Sufi will go to pre-kindergarten classes full time. Yamina, the youngest of three children, was born in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and was brought to this country by her parents when she was around Sami’s age. “They came for a better life,” she says, adding that they chose the East Coast because her father had a brother in Delaware and one in Astoria. The family moved around New York City and even spent some time in Arlington, Texas, before settling in Astoria when Yamina was seven. “We were the only Bengalis in Astoria,” she says, adding that most of the people she met were Greek. “And when we were in Texas, we were the only brown people there.” Although she was a child, Yamina found it difficult to fit in. “My whole life I wanted to be someone else,” she says. “I didn’t want to be Bengali and Muslim.” Yamina attended P.S. 17, P.S. 122 and Bronx High School of Science. At Stony Brook University, she earned a degree in linguistics. “The only reason my parents let me go so far from home was that my brother was already going there,” she says. When she graduated, she became a case worker for United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island, where she worked until she met Faheem on Match.com. “My parents didn’t like us dating because Faheem is not Bengali,” she says, adding that they lived two blocks from each other when she was growing up yet never met. “He’s Pakistani and was born here. The fact that we are both Muslim didn’t make him any more acceptable to them.” The couple also had something else in common: They were obese and dropped their weight by doing yoga and Pilates. “I used to be over 200 pounds and Faheem was over 300,” she says. “When we met, we were not obese any more.” In 2009, Yamina married Faheem and quit her job and enrolled at LIU Post full time to earn a master’s degree in teaching ESL. “I’d always wanted to teach because I had such great teachers when I was at P.S. 17,” she says, adding that it was while she was a student there that she became a U.S. citizen in third grade. “I chose ESL because my sister, who was six when we came to America, was put in a special-education class because she was ESL. “But my mother is persistent, and the next year she got her placed in a magnet school,” Yamina added. “I wanted to help newcomers like her.” So she was ecstatic when she got a job at P.S. 17 as a full-time substitute teacher. “But the school was not the same,” she says. “There was a different principal, and the teachers I had were no longer there. And there were no permanent positions open.” The next year, 2012, Yamina landed a job at P.S. 70. “I’m teaching so I can help kids like myself feel less scared about being new to a country and a language because maybe they see someone like myself who looks like them and was in their shoes,” she says. “It’s comforting to them.” Getting a job with children was far easier than having her own. Ruby and Sufi were conceived via in-vitro fertilization, and Sami, in defiance of doctors’ conclusions, came naturally and unexpectedly. “We were told we would have to do IVF to have any more children and were going to wait a while to do that,” Yamina says. “But I got pregnant with Sami when the twins were not yet a year old.” When the children have played themselves out, Yamina and Faheem gather them up like chicks and bring them back inside. There’s some high-pitched back and forth before things settle down. Yamina — mother, wife, teacher – is right where she wants to be. “I’ve found a family at P.S. 70,” she says. “Being in a classroom is the one place I don’t feel shy, and it makes me feel like a rock star when former students visit me. I want to be doing this the rest of my life.” She smiles when Ruby, Sufi and Sami come running toward her. Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is September 23. It is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone. Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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