“We wanted to serve all Himalayans”, Jamyan Gurung explains why they added “Himalayan” to the name of their restaurant, formerly known simply as Yak, in Jackson Heights, Queens. In her New York Times column focusing on the plight of new immigrants, Jennifer Lee writes today about her interview with this restaurant manager.
The name change obviously seeks to attract a wider crowd. That is consistent with Jamyan’s own background growing up in Mustang, located between Tibet and Nepal, where he has learned to speak both languages. He also speaks English, and this he explains, “Because it’s a tourist area, it’s very important to speak English. You have to deal with customers.”
When asked what his restaurant’s customer profile is, referring those who make up a quarter of his patrons, Jamyan catches Miss Lee’s attention with his choice of words for Whites: “foreigners”. Dutifully probed why he would call them foreigners when the restaurant is in the United States, Jamyan explains: “We call them tourists in Nepal. Whenever you see white people, you call them tourists. So many people come from Europe and America, so you don’t know if they are Americans. That’s why we call them tourists. When you are over here, we have the same concept.”Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse communities in New York, and only ten percent of the population is White. Just a few subway stops away, he will more often be mistaken as the tourist. As Jamyan further treads the road towards citizenship, I trust his concept will soon wear away. I also hope the stereotype of Asians as a perpetual foreigner withers quickly as well.