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The Albanian-American Community in New York
Erin Gorman and Stacey Richman
Lydig Avenue in the Bronx is home to the
most highly populated Albanian community in New York City. According to
the NYC Department of City Planning's Publication, "The Newest New
Yorkers," 925 Albanians immigrated to New York City between 1990-1994. Of
that population, 326 Albanians settled in the Bronx. However between 1995
and 1996, Albanian immigration to NYC increased by 154.9%. This is mainly
due to the escalating violence in the region of Kosovo.
After doing research online to find out the
names and phone numbers of several Albanian businesses and organizations
in the Bronx, and making a number of phone calls, we jumped on the 5
train. Eager to do some explorations of our own, we were mainly
concentrated on gaining insight into the Albanian language, the extent to
which it is employed by the members of the community, and the services
available in Albanian.
Though at first glance Lydig Avenue appeared
to be rather quiet and residential, a few blocks farther revealed a
diverse mix of Albanian pizzerias and bakeries, side by side with kosher
Russian butchers, convenience stores and small European markets. Intrigued
by this seemingly unlikely mix of shops and businesses, we paused to snap
Immediately, a petite brunette emerged from
her beauty salon demanding (in
a playful tone) to know our purpose in photographing her store. Upon
discovering our innocent intentions as eager students, this Turkish salon
owner disclosed her origins and explained that her minimal knowledge of
Albanian stems strictly from the need/desire to communicate with her
clientele, almost solely consisting of Albanians. Even after a pleasant
exchange this woman refused to be photographed, joking that she didn't
want to see her face on the cover of the newspaper.
Encouraged by the kind, lighthearted nature
of this woman, we continued on
our investigative journey, looking into shop windows for hints of Albanian
culture, flipping through papers at newsstands for sign of their writing,
and listening to detect the languages being employed by those around us.
Storefronts, as well as overheard
conversations, revealed English,
Spanish, Arabic and Russian to be the most popular languages of the area,
aside from Albanian. Curious to discover whether banking was being made
accessible to Albanian speakers, we tried out the nearest ATM machine,
only to find that English, and Spanish were the only choices of languages.
Fortunately, we learned that most Albanian New Yorkers speak enough
English to get by, or are aided by friends/members of the community until
they can do so.
Suddenly hungry for lunch, we stepped into a
small Albanian restaurant we
had found on the Internet. The food at the "Burektorja Dukagjine" was both
authentic as well as delicious; an Albanian version of pizza. However,
the owner only spoke enough English to communicate that she was Albanian
and didn't speak English. She was, however, watching an English news
program, seemingly more concentrated on the images of the rubble of the
World Trade Center- despair speaks no one language. During our time in the
restaurant several other customers came and went, exchanging several words
in Albanian while waiting for their take out food.
In an attempt to gain insight into medical
services available to Albanian
speakers in the community, we went into a medical supply store, whose
owner sent us to the Pediatric Group next door. Interestingly, we were
informed that while this particular office caters largely to the Albanian
community, none of the doctors are themselves Albanians, nor are they
speakers of the language. Hospitals in the area, such as Jacobi Medical
Center, however, do pride themselves on having Albanian translators
available for those uncomfortable with, or unable to, communicate in
English. These translators come from a volunteer bank. While the services
might not be highly publicized, members of the Albanian community in need
of assistance are both aware of such services and able to employ them when
the need arises.
With the hour getting late, delighted, but
somewhat overwhelmed with the
abundance of helpful information we were able to gather, the two of us
headed back downtown to sort through our newly found material and divide
up useful phone numbers and contacts. We were satisfied with what we had
at the moment, but knew there was a long ways to go before we truly had a
grasp of the language of the Albanian community on Lydig Avenue in the
Bronx. Since neither of us are Albanian, we felt we needed the
additional perspective of an Albanian American to tell us what being an
Albanian American in the Bronx really means.
Case Study: George Poepai
Through contacts we were fortunate enough to
be able to schedule an
interview with George Poepai, an Albanian engineer working at the Jewish
Home and Hospital in the Bronx, who along with his wife and children lives
on Lydig Avenue. George began by explaining to us that due to its phonetic
nature, the Albanian language is not at all difficult to speak or write.
It is made up of 36 letters, and is apparently pronounced precisely the
way it is written. Interestingly, it has been extremely difficult to
pinpoint the origins of the Albanian language, as it does not resemble any
George, who grew up in a small village in
Greece called Kilmene, and moved
to the Bronx with his family when he was a teenager, had little trouble
learning English. In fact, he pointed out that many Albanians have some
command of the English language as English classes are often offered in
Albanian schools. George's wife, however, is far less comfortable
communicating in English. Though both George and his wife speak to each
other and their children in Albanian, more often than not their kids
respond in English, as that is the language they learn in school and use
when speaking to friends. However, as a community effort to preserve
Albanian, Catholic Churches in the area offer both Albanian language and
continuing education classes taught in Albanian.
George remembers the days when it was
extremely difficult to find any
services in New York City catering to Albanians, however that has taken a
huge leap in the past 15-20 years, as the Albanian community here has
established agencies to aid their own. This type of service proved greatly
effective in treating George's father in law who was suffering from manic
depression. Unfortunately, he had made little headway until he was
introduced to a doctor at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in the Bronx, who was
able to speak to him in Albanian, making treatment all the more
comfortable and effective.
Another area in which language has proved
especially important is that of
education. The local elementary school in the Albanian community in the
Bronx is P.S. 96. This school provides a variety of services for all
children who speak another language, as well as some specific services for
students who speak Albanian. In general, the ESL services depend upon the
student's degree of comprehension on fluency in English. The school
district also provides ESL instruction for parents on evenings and
These specific services for Albanian
speaking students, however, are very
few, and are somewhat misleading. For example, on the Community School
District #11 website (this is the district including P.S. 96) the Office
of Second Language Instruction Program section states that there is a
newly formed Albanian bilingual class at P.S. 96. This information is not
exactly true. When we talked to the teachers at P.S. 96, they said that
there was no such Albanian bilingual class. The Albanian speaking
students are in the general ESL class with all of the other ESL students.
The only new thing this year is that the school hired a teaching assistant
who speaks Albanian fluently to assist with the instruction of the
Albanian-speaking students. The Albanian students are not in their own
separate class, and do not receive bilingual instruction.
There are also several privately run
Albanian language schools in the
area. The Shkollat Shqiptare school, or in English, the "Albanian School"
in the Bronx, teaches Albanian to young children of Albanian immigrants.
The Albanian Catholic Church, Our Lady of Shkoder, in Hartsdale, N.Y.
provides similar services. The students in both of these schools usually
understand Albanian, and can speak it fluently because they learned it
from their parents. However, their parents wish them to have a more
formal grasp of the language, and the schools provide mainly reading and
Government and Community Services
We found few government services provided in
Albanian. The only service
that we could find in Albanian was voter assistance. The New York
Immigration Hotline provided voting services in Albanian on Primary Day.
They answered voting questions and also took comments and complaints.
Even the office of the state representative for the area of Pelham
Parkway, Jeff Klein, had no information on government services in
Albanian. This is somewhat disturbing since the office is on Lydig Ave.,
which is the heart of the Albanian community. In fact, they had no
literature in any language other than English, despite the high LOTE use
in the area. On Lydig Ave., we heard and saw evidence for the high use of
the following LOTE's: Albanian, Turkish, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, and
Jeff Klein, did however, provide us with the
number and address of the
Albanian Assistance Center in the Bronx. The Albanian community relies on
this organization to receive help on government and immigration affairs,
as well as many other services. This center is registered with INS to
provide immigration assistance and translate immigration paperwork. The
center also provides many other civic services for the Albanian community.
They help Albanian immigrants understands the rights they have in the
United States, they assist in filling out Social Security paperwork, and
with any other translation services Albanians might need regarding
In addition, the Albanian Assistance Center
provides assistance to
battered women. Specialists assist these women in understanding their
rights regarding domestic violence, and act as interpreters between the
women and the police. Workers from the Albanian Assistance center also
act as mediators between parents and the school districts when conflicts
or misunderstandings arise about students due to language barriers.
The center also is involved in many cultural
activities within the
Albanian community, such as the Global Ethnic Awareness Programs. These
programs attempt to unite the school district with the surrounding
community. Middle and high school students who come together to share
their different cultures. Students bring in traditional music, food, and
dress to share with others students of different cultural backgrounds as
well as parents and other community members.
There are several newspapers and magazines
that are published in Albanian
for the Albanian American community. The most popular is a newspaper that
is published bi-weekly by the name of Illyria. "Illyria" is the
ancient name for Albania, literally meaning freedom. This particular
newspaper is published in the Bronx and mainly only sold by subscription.
Interestingly, during our trip to Lydig Avenue we saw only one newsstand
that carried the paper.
Illyria is divided into two sections:
the English section, and the
Albanian section. The paper covers the news in Albania, Kosovo, and the
surrounding countries. Recent articles also included Albania's statement
of support for the U.S. in the campaign against terrorism and Albania's
denial of harboring any terrorist cells. Many businesses in the Pelham
Parkway section of the Bronx advertise in Illyria, especially
restaurants, lawyers, and travel agencies. Other Albanian publications
include a paper written only in Albanian about the news in Kosovo, and a
Catholic religious magazine called, "Jeta Katolike".
Our experiences with the Albanian American
community in New York City has
led us to believe that although services to the Albanian community have
improved, more improvements are definitely still needed. The Albanian
community has managed to make their language an integral part of community
life, as reflected in the number of Albanian businesses, schools, and
publications. The community, in response has acknowledged the Albanian
community in various ways, and many non-Albanians actually learn Albanian.
However, this acknowledgement is on a very local and informal level. The
Albanian American community could benefit from having more official
government involvement in providing services in Albanian and publishing
government information in Albanian.