DAVID’S MISSION IN WOODSIDE
|David Rosasco. Photo by Indra Tamang|
By Indra Tamang
For fifteen years I have lived with my family in the neighborhood of Woodside, Queens, and for the last nine years, on 63rd Street, up the hillside from the train station. For quite some time I’ve been curious about one of my neighbors, a big friendly man with a beard whom I see at all hours of the day making things look good. He trims hedges in people’s yards; he paints over graffiti tags on walls and garage doors; he picks trash up off the street, and he never seems to be doing it for any reason other than to make things look better. I got to know him and found out his name: David Rosasco. He is married to a Japanese lady and has a daughter about the age of my daughter Zina. In 2012, he was part of an effort to save a very old beech tree on 63rd Street, which is believed to have been planted before the Revolutionary War. Recently, I asked him if I could interview him about this occupation he’s taken upon himself—a big job he does for no pay—and last week he invited me to visit. His house is the same age and style as mine, part of the same row of attached houses built in the early 1930s with the original light fixtures and molding. Sitting in his living room, I asked him some of the questions I’d been wondering about.
David, what inspired you to do all this community work?
I lived in Japan for a very long time and the Japanese are not talkers, they’re doers. In twelve years in Japan, I never saw a public garbage can. They don’t need them. Everything is perfectly clean. I want to compete with that. When our streets are dirty it’s an embarrassment for us. I’ve never met a person from any country who likes dirty streets. There may be places where the streets are dirty, but nobody makes that a goal. Everybody can rally around that, so right away you have a coalition, and that has helped. That led to the tree planting and the repainting of public fixtures, and it’s brought a lot of people into it, with good cheer.
So you do have other people helping you?
Oh, sure. On the weekends I have my crew. We have people from the Lutheran church, we got the Mormons, we got the Muslim masjid over here, the St. Sebastian Catholic School kids, PS 11, and the odd variety of citizens and residents, all working together.
Do people donate paint?
For sure. A lot of individuals will donate paint, and the paint store over here on 65th Street and Roosevelt Ave., they donate a lot of paint. And we use our own money. And the thing with the garbage—a lot of times it’s a few people making a lot of mess. But if they see me removing it repeatedly, almost to the point of daily, there is a psychological effect. I think there’s a duty to show good examples.
When did you start doing this?
I started in July of 2006. I started by sweeping under the train station at 61st Street and Roosevelt Avenue. And that evolved in such a way that I started doing all these projects, and doing them happily. I have a map and I decided, for example, that in this zip code there would be no graffiti.
What if the graffiti is up high?
Well, I’m not going to kill myself for it, but I usually knock on the door and tell the superintendent that they should remove the graffiti. They can actually get a fine for that, even though they didn’t put it there. On the ground level I think we’ve eliminated all the graffiti at this point. I’m so invested in Woodside now.
So you started as a one-man crusade to keep Woodside beautiful?
Yeah. I believe that everybody in life has a mission. Our community is going to be in good order—so that everybody can walk safely from point A to point B, it will be clean, we’ll have more trees—and the graffiti will be gone.
Where do you find the time for all this?
You have to make the time.
Do you not have to work a regular job?
My job is irregular. I’m a translator by trade. I translate from Japanese into English. And my wife works, so that helps. My job has weeks when there’s lots of work and others where there isn’t, and that’s allowed me to do this. I don’t know what the future holds but I’ve made a commitment to this community, to give it a little bit of extra boost.
You said you started by sweeping under the train station. Didn’t the city have anyone doing it already?
No. Years ago there was sanitation management but those days are gone. Nobody wants to take responsibility. I thought the best example would be to just pick up trash and keep picking it up.
In Jackson Heights, council member Daniel Dromm occasionally has a community street cleaning event. Has any government official recognized your work?
No. But you know what? I’d rather they don’t. Because once they start recognizing it, they own it. And it’s not about them, it’s about us. My greatest fear is the government knocking on the door and saying, “Thank you for this, we’ll pay you for it!” Luckily it hasn’t happened. But different agencies of the government—not elected officials—they appreciate the effort we’re making. They see what we’re trying to do, and it’s actually a fairly large project.
Since you grew up in Queens you must have seen so much diversity in the last twenty/ thirty years.
Sure! And the best is yet to come! A lot of people look to the days gone by and say it was better then. But I think things have never been better.
You like to believe the future is better than the past?
Oh, absolutely! I’m convinced of it. I see the young kids out with me, all different races and creeds, and I’m convinced that tomorrow will be better. I don’t think Woodside has ever been as clean, to be honest with you. And I grew up here!
Did you grow up in this neighborhood?
Right on this street. My family is here. My father Anthony and my mother Louise, my brothers Anthony, Michael and Steven. When you have longstanding ties to a community, which I do, you want people to stay. And how do you get them to stay? If the streets are clean and hopefully the rents stay reasonable, people will stay. I’ve only been two places in my life; Woodside and Saitama City, Japan. That’s all I know.
Will you tell the story about the big tree that was saved from the developer’s axe?
The tree down the street. 41-52 63rd Street is the address. There used to be a house there that was knocked down. That tree has been dated to before the Revolutionary times, and it’s also a species that was not native to the Americas. They believe it was brought over by the Dutch or the British, who planted it there about 200 years ago. The developer wanted to chop the tree down. A lot of the residents protested, including my mother. See? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She fought pretty hard for the tree and they kept it. The owner of the development worked around the tree.
They were building a condominium and redesigned it, right?
Yes, they redesigned it based upon that tree. That was one little success story.
After the interview we went outside and I took a portrait of David for this post. Usually he wears work clothes and a kerchief tied around his head, but for this he wore a tie and a beret. Many thanks to David for all of his hard work for Woodside and its residents.
December 10th, 2013
Transcribed and edited by Romy Ashby
Copyright Indra Tamang, 2013, all rights reserved.