The intersection of Coney Island and Foster avenues in Brooklyn was witness to a jubilant scene Friday, as community members tossed confetti and waved American and Pakistani flags for the unveiling of "Muhammad Ali Jinnah Way."
The co-naming of the intersection after the founder of modern Pakistan was the realization of a longtime goal of the Pakistani American Youth Organization (PAYO), a nonprofit based in Midwood, which hopes an official designation of the neighborhood as "Little Pakistan" will soon follow.
“I think [the co-naming] is a great way to show homage," said Councilman Jumaane Williams, who supported the co-naming and revealed the signage at the ceremony. "You see the impact that 9/11 had for this community, the un-American feeling that was here was palpable. So many organizations opened up to try to bring back that sense of community, so when PAYO reached out to do this renaming it made sense. I was excited to do this.”
The unveiling was followed by steaming trays of samosas and jalebi, a bright orange Pakistani sweet. As attendees ate and celebrated, speakers took to the podium to commemorate the co-naming, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilman Mathieu Eugene, and Zubda Malik, the general secretary of PAYO.
“I don’t have words to explain; this is not just a sign," said Waqil Ahmed, president of PAYO, who also called it a symbol of acceptance.
In the 1940s, Jinnah played a prominent role in the partition of Pakistan from India in order to establish an independent Muslim state. He succeeded in his negotiations with Britain and was pronounced the first governor-general of Pakistan in August 1947.
“When the kids see the sign they will be proud to explain he’s the founder of Pakistan," Ahmed said.
The mile-long stretch of Coney Island Avenue between Newkirk Avenue and Avenue H has been a destination for Pakistani immigrants since the ’80s. The area became informally known as “Little Pakistan” among residents as the area filled with Pakistani restaurants and shops while Urdu became the language of the streets.
Malik believes that an official designation of "Little Pakistan," which would have to come from the City Council, would have a "huge impact with feeling like we are accepted."
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte hopes the street co-naming and pursuit of a neighborhood designation will spur other immigrant communities to seek the same recognition.
“There is room for everyone. We can do a little Israel, we can do a little Russia,” Bichotte said. “We’re really excited to do the co-naming because it’s an embracing of immigrants, especially with the xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies, this is showing that New York embraces leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah.”