By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
There has been so much talk about making America great “again.” There has also been a lot said about the impact of immigrants in our nation. I submit that the two questions are inextricably tied together.
By definition, virtually every one of us are descendants of immigrants. Some from 20 years ago or less and others from 200 years ago or more. Only if your heritage traces back to say the Cherokee nation or Iroquois can you say that you are not from an immigrant family. America has always been the beacon of hope and opportunity for the multitude of newly arrived inhabitants.
This history is particularly poignant here in New York City where so many of our ancestors arrived on Ellis Island and then settled somewhere in the five boroughs. Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, East European, Asian, Indian, African, Latin American… and on and on. These immigrants built New York City and continue to serve our city in so many occupations and small businesses.
On the Lower East Side, people from Poland, Austria and Germany opened up street corner shops or worked from pushcarts to sell their wares. Little Italy is the home of some of the finest restaurants in the world. Chinatown likewise has its cuisine as well as thriving poultry and fish selling industry.
Manhattan and the boroughs are sprinkled with nail salons operated and owned by Korean, Japanese and South East Asian women and men. Bodegas serve so many of our Latin and Dominican neighborhoods. The Irish famously manned our police precincts and firehouses for many years. And others from different parts of the world were our ironworkers, longshoreman and stevedores. Many of our elderly caregivers are from Caribbean origins. They all helped to build and sustain our great nation and its people. Many defended our country and fought our wars when duty called.
First and second generation immigrants are the backbone of so many of our small neighborhood businesses that have made New York City great. Here in our own backyard we have proof of that. Lenz’s grocery store and deli located on 20th Street, about half way between First Avenue and the East River is now in its seventh decade of serving the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village community. Even as a young boy living in Stuyvesant Town with a couple of dollars in my pocket, I visited Lenz’s for an afternoon snack or some refreshment. Thousands of other kids and adults did the same. Others buy their daily groceries there without long lines.
Its owner for the past 20 years is Nasser Hashash, a first generation American. He is the son of Egyptian parents. Most of his family still live in that part of the world. He is affectionately known to his friends and customers simply as Naz. A better, friendlier, and more industrious businessman you will not easily find. Open early in the morning and late into the evening Lenz’s provides a welcome cup of coffee and maybe an egg sandwich for the early risers, good fresh deli sandwiches during the day and great hot food as well including pizza calzones and other items. Of course all the staples such as milk, juice, eggs, cereal, pastries, canned food, vegetables as well as toiletries… are always available on the well-stocked shelves.
Under Naz’s ownership, Lenz’s has been able to remain open and flourish while so many other local stores and shops were closing for one reason or another. I attribute their recent success to the friendly atmosphere created by Naz. I am told that Lenz’s is near another lease renewal with the new management of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. And that would be a very good thing. For not only does Naz serve this community but he also employs many workers and that adds to our local economy in taxes paid, income spent, and the avoidance of welfare.
Small community businesses run by enterprising Americans, new and old, are the pistons of our American economic engine.
So if the new administration in Washington D.C. wants to know what makes America great, then my suggestion is to come to the East Side of Manhattan and pay a visit to Lenz’s… a local business run by a hardworking owner, who happens to be an immigrant, fulfilling the American dream.