Among the Rockets: New York Times

New York Times, Walker in NY series

The streets of Corona swell with Muslims — men and young boys in new salwar kameez, sent special from family in Pakistan; women and girls, too, in reds, aquas and silvers, the kind usually found in the tails of mermaids and peacocks. We are headed early in the morning to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. For the month of Ramadan, we fasted from sunrise to sunset, spending our days in spiritual remembrance. Now we rejoice — eat sweets, give gifts and offer a communal prayer.

Once in the park, we become a river of walkers. We travel past the Hall of Science, with its graveyard of rocket ships and rippling walls. We know we are close when we see the Unisphere, a relic of the World’s Fair, a sculpture of Earth. On the ground, prayer sheets spread like moss. Our parents greet one another with laughter. I rush to join my friends, who are standing in a circle, and our glass bracelets tinkle as we show off the mehndi designs painted on our hands.

We are young, so we are allowed to roam. First we head to the Unisphere’s empty fountain bed; it has been dried out for years, but we don’t mind. For us, it’s a place to play freeze tag or just walk arm in arm around the perimeter. When we tire of this, we head to the New York State Pavilion. Its broken elevators look like the heads of stationary beasts, waiting, blinking their eyes. We enter the pavilion to touch the decaying map of New York laid out on the floor. When we do, eroding chunks of terrazzo fall apart in our hands.

We don’t know we are standing on the grounds of the World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964, where people dreamed of peace and understanding. We don’t know we are close to the site of the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, an early stand for religious freedom taken by residents against Peter Stuyvesant’s ban on the Quaker religion. We only know we are Pakistanis in Queens, and Eid is a joyous day, a time we can dress in our finest clothes, pray in the open, under the sky, among rocket ships and planets that once ushered in the future’s promise.