What’s in a (street) name? Bronx Albanian American Community Protests Fan Noli Name Change Delay – Bronx Times

Saturday’s cool, sunny day was meant to be a time of celebration – Party – for Albanian Americans both in the Bronx and afar. What was supposed to be a planned moment for a proud community, has instead turned into a scene of protest.

After a local law passed in December by the New York City Council to rename the street corner of Morris Park and Tenbroeck avenues after Albanian icon Fan Noli – founder of the Albanian Orthodox Church and famous cultural hero – the moment of The recognition was ideal with the biennial convention of the Albanian American advocacy organization Vatra in town.

In place, members of the Albanian American community feel both discriminated against and lied to by Democratic Throggs Neck Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez and the city, who – they and some elected officials allege – dropped the ball by submitting a request to the Department of Transportation of the city ​​(DOT) to install the new traffic sign.

“A law that had to be implemented by the members of the Council Marjorie Velázquez, an elected official who is committed to working with the Albanian American community and all communities to help celebrate their achievements, not undermine them,said Albanian-American Orenala Bashiri, who sits on Bronx Community Board 11. “However, today, instead of being celebrated and appreciated as a community, we were discriminated against. Marjorie Velázquez lied to us for over a month.

“We are proud to come together at such short notice for our heritage and our culture,” said Mark Gjonaj, the first Albanian American to be elected to public office in the Bronx. “No one can take away your sweat, your efforts, your success and your contributions.” Photo Adrian Childress

The 13th City Council District includes strong Albanian communities in Morris Park and Pelham Bay.

Velázquez took office on January 1, taking the seat of Albanian American councilor Mark Gjonaj – who backed the demand for a street name change while serving on council last year.

She told The Times that much of the backlash against her was motivated by “cheap political attacks,” and said she had been in communication with DOT and Vatra officials about a possible tribute to Noli. .

“It is unfortunate that some people would rather divide a community with fabricated lies than work to do positive things for us. This street co-naming has never been blocked and I worked with the DOT on this co-naming and the former board member knows full well that street co-namings have always taken time to plan” , Velázquez told The Times on Saturday. “We coordinated an appointment with the president of Vatra, Elmi Berisha, to celebrate not only Fan Noli, but also the church and the culture that he loved so much. I have always supported the Albanian community, including recently celebrating the recognition of Kosovo Independence Day alongside Borough President Vanessa Gibson and Ambassador Frymëzim Isufaj.

However, some elected officials, including state lawmakers Nathalia Fernandez and Michael Benedetto, expressed a sense that the ball had been dropped to have the street renamed “Fan Noli Way.”

Arelt Xhaferri, a third-generation Albanian-American from Queens, waves the Albanian flag during a protest in Morris Park on Saturday, February 26. Photo Robbie Sequeira

“The word pettiness comes to mind,” Benedetto said. “There is a time when you do governance, make laws, when you work for your community; that you put pettiness in the background and put what is good for the community in the foreground.

While members and activists of the Albanian community, as well as elected officials, demand that April 8 be the new date for the erection of the Noli memorial green street sign, many members of the Albanian American community are still disappointed. and disappointed by the delay in the process. Some consider having no routine request to honor a community that has seen enormous growth and presence in the Bronx over the past 20 years – with strongholds in the Bronx sections of Pelham Parkway, Morris Park, Bedford Park and Belmont – like an erasure.

“The fact that the city and Marjorie Velázquez reneged on a promise to rename the street after Fan Noli…is a travesty,” said Nick Gjeelaj, an Albanian American lawyer and community figure. “Fan Noli – who is a sacred religious and political figure – a neutral figure in that all Albanians look up to him regardless of their affiliation, it’s a simple request that would have made everyone here happy, and to getting removed for political reasons is frustrating.

Political conflicts in the Balkans drove an Albanian diaspora to New York in the 20th century. As large groups immigrated to America in the 1900s, 1940s and 1990s in massive waves, the Bronx became home to many who proudly waved both flags: the Stars and Stripes and Flamuri i Republikës së Shqipërisë.

“A lot of families in this district started out as pizza deliverers, doormen and went on to work and go to school…where we are doctors and lawyers,” Gjeelaj said. “Not having that recognized feels like an erasure. We are heavy voters in this district, and that is something many Albanian American voters and Bronxites will remember when it comes time to vote.

Contact Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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