Ethnography Report, Hillside Avenue


Sarah Levin

Jamaica Estates, Queens is the neighborhood in which I was raised. It is an upper middle class neighborhood. It is located between Union Turnpike at its North, Hillside Avenue to the south, Utopia Parkway and Homelawn Street to the west, and 188th Street to the east. It is a beautiful neighborhood filled with oak, chestnut, maple and elm trees. Most of the houses are set back and old-fashioned tudors. On 179th street, right by the entrance of Jamaica Estates, there is a popular subway station. It is only feet away from Hillside Avenue, a popular and condensed avenue filled with shops. Despite the fact that it only blocks away from my house, I have never actually been to Hillside Avenue until this project. I felt that going to witness the stark difference of only a few blocks would be fascinating, and I was correct! It was only a five-minute drive from my house to Hillside Avenue, yet I was able to see the community drastically shift in terms of appearance, in terms of people and their ethnicity, and in fashion.

When I arrived at the subway station which is located on Hillside Avenue, and directly next to the Jamaica Estates entrance sign, I was confronted by homeless man asking for money. He wore jeans, a sweater, white sneakers, and a baseball cap. His clothing was tattered and dirty looking, he was holding a cup in his hands. After seeing this man I decided to go up and down the avenue to see the diversity of people and the way life was lived in this poorer socioeconomic neighborhood. I spent most of my morning watching people at bus stops and looking at the stores on the Avenue. The area was surprisingly quiet. It was nine o’clock on a Sunday morning yet almost all the stores were closed. The bus stops were filled with people though, all who appeared as if they were going to work. At the bus stop stood a man in a postal office uniform, a few men in hoodies and sweatpants or jeans, and men wearing suits and ties. I examined their clothing in order to see what kind of style these people possessed. I only recognized one brand; a young man wore Adidas shoes. At another bus stop I witnessed a construction worker, a woman in a hijab which is the head covering worn in public by a Muslim woman, and a young woman in jeans and a sweatshirt. The remainder of the people seemed to have dressed for comfort or profession; no people were dressed in modern day styles besides for the one fellow with the Adidas shoes. As I walked up and down the streets I realized that fascinatingly, there was only one clothing store within a few blocks radius. The storeowner was opening his shop as I walked by. He was an Indian man and was selling Indian styled clothing. The clothing was styled in bright and patterned designs, many of which were metallic and jeweled. The dresses on display were flowy and long, the pants were busily patterned as well. A lot of the tops were revealing and embellished. The clothing was stitched beautifully and detailed, although the owner was selling most of it for only ten dollars, almost every article of clothing was on sale. I went over to the owner and asked him a few questions, one of which was whether or not his store was popular. He explained that his business is not doing well at all, and that people rarely shop in his store. This surprised me considering that of the six beauty stores that I had seen, one had Indian words such as “radha,” (definition: success), and two of the stores advertized hennas on their front display. I assumed based on this that the populace is predominantly Indian, but he corrected me and explained that the neighborhood around Hillside Avenue is in fact extremely diverse. After I left his store, I observed some women walking to church, I saw a Halal meat store which attracts Muslims, I saw others walking around in Indian garb while some wore full hijabs or face coverings, I walked passed an Italian Pizzeria, and lastly saw a furniture store which emphasized that they had “global” styles. I learned that the people amid Hillside Avenue are in fact, from many different cultures.

I realized as the day progressed that most people there were focused on their ethnicity and cultural clothing. Therefore, most people were not focused on modern-day and in-style fashion. I realized that the Indian clothing store I went to is not successful because as a young man I met while observing explained to me: people there don’t care about modern styles, but rather concentrate on the comfort and familiarity of their inherited and generation old traditional clothing. It’s not that they don’t care about how they look, after all, there are six beauty salons in just a few blocks! In regard to fashion though, heritage is preferred. While Jamaica Estates is only a community away, its members are focused on the latest trends; people sport pom-poms, velvet clothing, trumpet sleeve shirts, booties, heavy scarves, and shoes of all sorts. Comparatively, people on Hillside Avenue are not only minutes away, but worlds away as well. Their focus is not on trends, but instead on the beautiful value of traditional and cultural attire.

er-1The subway station on Hillside Avenue.


The house Donald Trump grew up in. It is a block away from Hillside Avenue.


A homeless man next to the entrance sign of Jamaica Estates.


People on Hillside Avenue waiting at the bus stop. (Different styles and outfits, more professional or comfortable)


Halal food sold on Hillside and an Italian restaurant.


The six different beauty Salons I saw on only a few blocks of Hillside Avenue.


The Indian styled clothing store.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *