Joe DiStefano: Queens Evangelist

Food for Thought

@joedistefanoqns invited me to a new Japanese restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens, for dinner. I was early, so I checked out Pata Market, a Thai grocery store next door. I bought a few random things, and as I was about to step out, Joe was about to come in. He told me I had the right idea since the store might be closed by the time we were done with dinner. Back in the store, I see that he knows everyone.

Joe is unarguably the biggest evangelist of Queens. He’s been writing about it for decades. There is no sense that he does what he does because he pities the less privileged. He is just genuinely curious and passionate about the immigrant cultures. I love that about him.

Queens is full of immigrants but is also home to authentic, independent souls who were born here. In contrast, Brooklyn is now home to wannabes who ride the waves of new trends in herds. They know very well how to exploit the trappings of independence but operate squarely within the dominant corporate structure. They know, for instance, how to raise money from Wall Street hedge-funders.

Queens may be cool in some respects, but it’s certainly not trendy. Your association with Queens’ brand won’t help you connect with the rich and powerful. To live there by choice, you must have a genuine passion for something.

I myself have never had the courage to abandon the corporate world. Because my father was a salaryman in Japan, conformist culture is deeply ingrained in me; it’s hard to fly away from it. Every time I travel to Queens, I become aware of my half-assed attempt to be independent. I keep one foot in the corporate world not because that’s part of who I am but because I’m afraid of not being able to go back to it. It’s not a very forgiving world once you burn the bridges to it. But I have to ask myself how long I’m going to keep my options open.

There is a saying in Japan that says if you commit to any passion for ten years, you’d be able to make a living from it because everything in this world is connected. Joe is a good example of it. What makes it hard for many of us is being fortunate enough to have choices. If conformity is an option, it’s scary to abandon it.