Canarsie is still living the dream

Canarsie is still living the dream
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Canarsie has become a haven for Caribbean and West Indian immigrants — but tell the people shopping along Flatlands Avenue for the last 10 years something they don’t know.

“Look at all the signs,” Dexter McKenzie, owner of McKenzie’s Jerkin’ Chicken on Flatlands Avenue between E. 79th and E. 80th streets, said as the Jamaican native pointed to all the West Indian businesses on the heavily traveled strip. “We’ve been here for years. I’ve been in this neighborhood since the 1970s. There’s a lot of us here.”

More than ever, in fact, says the 2010 Census.

Figures released this week show that black residents now comprise 85 to 95 percent of the neighborhood — an 18- to 28-percent jump from 2000.

The Census data doesn’t differentiate between specific nationalities, but Canarsie doesn’t shy away from its Caribbean island influences.

Close to a dozen Caribbean and West Indian restaurants dot Flatlands Avenue along the five-block stretch between Ralph Avenue and E. 85th Street, including the aptly named “Our Place” restaurant, which proudly serves hot and spicy Jamaican fare.

Down the block from McKenzie’s is a Trinidadian hair salon, which is just steps from a deli that advertises its selection of “American and Caribbean food.”

Hard to believe that in 1990, Canarsie was 75 percent white. Within five years, longtime Italian and Jewish residents were leaving — though the neighborhood’s roots still show a bit.

The Guarino Funeral Home still operates at E. 92nd Street — right down the block from the Sephardic Jewish Center of Canarsie. In between stands the Guarino family homestead, where former Assemblyman and Canarsie Democratic District Leader Frank Seddio has been treating residents — regardless of race — to a magnificent holiday display since 1986.

“When new people come to this city, they always come here,” Seddio said. “Canarsie’s white ethnic population has shrunk, but that’s not changed what the community represents. Canarsie’s always been the perfect place for middle-income, first-time homebuyers who want to live the American dream.”