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Roxanne De Shong

Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder

August 29, 1993

Call number: 1994.006.07

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CRAIG WILDER: Could you just tell me um, describe briefly how your came to the United States, when and what you remember about St. Vincent and Brooklyn at that age.

ROXANNE DE SHONG: Like I said, I came in the early '70s. The thing that I remember the most is my school days. I went to school in East New York, by Rockaway, PS something. I went there for one year. From 2nd grade to 8th grade, I went to Holy Spirit Catholic School over there on Classon. Then I went to Clara Barton High School on um President Street. And Then I went to Hostoffs, 1:00and I did a year and a half there in the Bronx.

CRAIG WILDER: What did Brooklyn look like to a six or seven year old girl from St. Vincent?

ROXANNE DE SHONG: It was different. Where I come from, there's a lot of hills and stuff, and a lot of grass and open space and beaches and stuff. You know where you can go to. Everything here is far. People is more friendlier. When I started going to school here, people said, "You come from a banana boat." All those kinds of things. They give you a hard time. Only recently, people started adjusting to people from difference places. When I was growing up, kids could be cruel. So it was different.


CRAIG WILDER: What other tension were there between American born kids and Caribbeans?

ROXANNE DE SHONG: That was about it. You get teased about where you come from. That banana thing. Basically, you just stay with your own. You have friends with other people but basically you stay with you own kind.

CRAIG WILDER: In school, did the Caribbean children tend to stick together?


CRAIG WILDER: And how about the American born? Did they?

DE SHONG: Well it was give or take. Some people were cooler than others. Some were more open to people from different places than others. You find that some people were okay about it, but then some people were kind of different.

WILDER: Do you suspect they got those attitudes from home?

DE SHONG: Yes, probably. Where else could they have gotten them?

WILDER: What did Brooklyn look like in your childhood?


DE SHONG: Oh boy. What did it look like.

WILDER: If you had to tell your children the difference between Brooklyn now and Brooklyn then, what would you say?

DE SHONG: It was a lot more quieter. Not much gunshots and all those drugs that they have there now. And um, well, around that time, White people were just starting to move out of the area and Black people were more settling in. Just recently, Jews started come back from Long Island or wherever they were and they started to come back. It was pretty much quiet. It was nicer than it is now. That's for sure.

WILDER: If you had your wishes, would your children grow up and live in Crown Heights?



WILDER: Where would they go?

DE SHONG: I would prefer if they would get some money and you know just move out of New York period. It's kind of like no matter where you go, you're not safe from gunshots. So, um, better to go some place, I'm not saying you're safe anyplace else, but maybe you have less chance of getting shot or something happening to you in some different state than here.

WILDER: When did your family first come to Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: Well, um, in the '70s.

WILDER: That's when you moved to Crown Street?


WILDER: Was you family helpful in adjusting to the new places?

DE SHONG: You know, it's like, I guess to a certain degree you get caught up in 5:00trying to have things and accumulate a certain amount of money so their kids can go to school and take care of the new house and this and that. So I mean there was this into their thing. They showed interest in what was going on, but they were so into doing their thing, you know job or whatever, that I wouldn't say it was that much of help.

WILDER: Their thing was buying the house.


WILDER: That was the great goal. Was it common for West Indians during that time to want that house?


WILDER: Did most people want that house?

DE SHONG: Yeah, just about all of my family, my aunts and my uncles, they have their own house. Either here or in Long Island or in Queens. Just about all of 6:00them. Not that much of them rent from people.

WILDER: What did they do once they got the house? Once they bought it? What then?

DE SHONG: Just worked to take care of the house and the kids and stuff.

WILDER: That's a fairly heavy responsibility. Is that your goal now, homeowning?

DE SHONG: Well, I would like it. You know, praise God, I can get some money and I can do something like that. But, even if I have to rent, if it's in a better area than I am now, it would be fine. I just want to make sure my kids are okay.

WILDER: So it's not as important as it was to your parents?

DE SHONG: No, not really. I mean it would be nice if it happened, you know don't get me wrong, it would be nice. But it's not something I've got in my head to get. I'd rather have a business, because I do hair.


WILDER: Who were the people in Crown Heights who didn't own their own homes?

DE SHONG: Who didn't? Well, when I was younger, there were some people that just came from the West Indies, and just came, they was rentin. Basically, I didn't have that much friends. I couldn't go around the corner until I was 14 years old, so I didn't know too much anybody. You know, I had to go inside at 9:00. That clock struck nine and the only people I knew were on the block. I had a girlfriend across the street from me and her mother and her parents were stricter than my parents. So it was just me and her, and maybe another girl who 8:00moved on to the block and guys you know that live on the block and their friends. One or two people that just came maybe I'd say, that didn't have, that their parents didn't own a house.

WILDER: What was the difference between the native born Black people, Black people who were born in the United States and the ones who immigrated from the Caribbean? Was there a difference in the way they looked at the city and life?

DE SHONG: I know they had some, what happened is, well, I remember they had, some of them, they like to play hookey a lot, go smoking or something like that. 9:00And some of them was troubled some, but I couldn't say all of them. Most of them, some of them was like, they wanted to play hookey and hang out and stuff. Some of the girls wanted to go into the bathroom and smoke, but that was about it.

WILDER: What jobs did you have in your teenage years?

DE SHONG: Well, my first job I had I was um, I had a summer job. I worked in a nursing home, over there by Delancey Street. And then I worked in Wendy's on Utica, and um, that's when I was 16. And then, um, my major in high school was Dental Assistant, so um I had a job in the hospital, assisting the dentist. And I had um, I worked in a building downtown on Hansen Place and um in Kingsbrook 10:00and I worked in another dental office on Flatbush Avenue.

WILDER: What did your family do?

DE SHONG: My father he worked for an insurance company and my mother she worked for the Woolworth's. She didn't really want to move too far from us. She wanted to stay, she wanted to stay where she could be accessible to us, so she never worked too far from Crown Street. Same thing, like five or six blocks. You know, she wouldn't be too far.

WILDER: What type of insurance did your father do?

DE SHONG: Equitable insurance, life insurance.

WILDER: Was your family a help to you as you sort of moved through jobs and school? I mean, how important were families, generally, in Crown Heights during 11:00your childhood?

DE SHONG: Umm, I guess, some people's families, what do you call them, some had better families than other people, no matter what you have so far as what you own or whatever. Some people just had a better parent, like, so far as helping and assisting you, looking out for you in certain things.


WILDER: Has there been a change in the role of families in Crown Heights over the years? Have they become less important or more important?

DE SHONG: Well, that's really toward the parent. Everybody, no matter how much money you have or how much little money. You kind of have no money and your parents look out for you more. And your parents can have a lot money but as soon as you cross over the line, they don't give a shit about you. So, I mean, the younger kids now, I mean, to me, what it looks like to me, is that they don't care. Some of them, I don't know if it's to have babies, you know, but I don't know there is certain categories, I mean you have people that is middle class, low middle class, poor, and impoverished or whatever. Some parents just care 13:00more than other parents about what happens to their kids.

WILDER: Let me ask you, it must have been difficult as a young person, like teenager or just pre-teen year to be a Black person in Brooklyn, but also to be a West Indian Black person in Brooklyn, because I remember when I was in school, there was a real tension between being those different things.


WILDER: How did you negotiate, I mean what did you identify as?

DE SHONG: I stayed around my own people. I didn't really know too many people that weren't West

Indian. I got teased sometimes about the way you talk, and that kind of thing. But it wasn't that bad. I don't know how it would have been in public school, I don't now, but where we was, true the school was mixed anyway. You know it 14:00wasn't more nobody than the other and it was um, alright. It wasn't that bad.

WILDER: You told me some of what the American born kids said about you. What did the West Indian kids say about American born kids?

DE SHONG: Well you know we never had real conversations about it, you know. As far as always teasin, they teased us and then get over it and it would be okay. But it wasn't really like no hostile thing, and divided, like with Jews and Black people here now. It was. They would tease you occasionally and not too often. You just did your work.

WILDER: What objects represent to you, if I asked you what represents St. 15:00Vincent in Brooklyn, what things would you point to tell me about St. Vincent?

DE SHONG: What would I say about them in Brooklyn?

WILDER: Yes, what would you point to? Tell me about if we were walking down the street?

DE SHONG: Well, you know, West Indian people seem to change a lot when they come to America. I don't know if it's the fast life, if it was the fast life, or the money comes. But like I said, lotta people change when they come here so um, I don't know if it's the money get to their head or the type of living that they see, or who they see that certain groups of people have and they don't have. I 16:00think that's the thing that turned, why didn't I notice that turned the place bad. You see a set of people that just have more have more, you see them having more than anybody else and you wonder why you can't have it too. I think that's, that's the whole thing. That's what changed.

WILDER: If we were going to walk through Crown Heights right now, what things would you point to tell me about West Indian culture in Crown Heights? Or West Indian contributions in Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: A lotta the people who live in Crown Heights now, a lotta of them is homeowners. Some of them have their own business. Um. Hard working people.


WILDER: Did you bring any things from St. Vincent with you that you remember?


WILDER: What don't people understand about West Indians in Brooklyn? What are the misperceptions?

DE SHONG: I think there is misperceptions on both sides. I think some people just help to fuel the fire more than others. Like, I know this girl, she's American and she said that when she was coming up, she dated a West Indian boy, 18:00and for some reason, the mother just didn't like her. I mean she was pleasant to the woman, respectful. Came in there, you know, never showed disrespect and the woman just didn't like her. It's things like that, that bring off those kinds of situation when, right now, she would deal with a West Indian person, but in her heart, she don't reach out for them. It's like attitudes that both people bring off to one another, whether conscious or unconsciously. When you come from the West Indies, and it's like, some people come here for a better life. Some people come here because of jobs. Some people come here for a lot of reasons. Sometimes when you talk about your home land and how beautiful it was, they're like, "Why you left if it was so beautiful?" What people don't understand is that, okay 19:00like in Guyana for instance, there's a fluctuating dollar, maybe 200 Guyanese dollars to one American dollar. In that kind of situation, no matter how beautiful your country is, you can't live there and still say you can afford to buy food or live and have a home or whatever. You know, so that's what gets them a lot. The way you stalk about how beautiful your home land is, if it's so beautiful why you aren't going to stay there. If you had the money to live in the West Indies, you wouldn't see so many West Indians here.

WILDER: Do a lot of West Indians want to return?

DE SHONG: Some do. I wouldn't mind going to my man's country, but they got them deportees. They do their time over here and then they go back to the West 20:00Indies, and they want to create pure havoc, they rob people right in your face in the bus. Anybody that know they come from America, they want to rob them and kill them for what they have. You don't know. You're not safe.

WILDER: This is Jamaicans victimizing people who spent time in America?

DE SHONG: They victimize the citizens and they victimize people that come on vacation because they know you have money.

WILDER: Are they the same as posses?

DE SHONG: Well, yeah, because they're a group. The other day, the Prime Minister didn't want no more reporters coming down to Jamaica, because they go down there and they just have this "don't care" attitude. You know, they got shipped back and since they can't get no job, because nobody don't want no criminal working in their place. All they can do to survive is rob people. If they have to kill 21:00you in the bargain, then they'll just kill you. So they have people going around robbing people there in their face and in the bus and wherever they can find you if you have money. You know, so.

WILDER: There's a stereotype of Jamaicans in Brooklyn now, which is new. It's people with dreads, it's Rastas, it's gang culture, posse, all of those things. How would you respond to that, if someone said, "Those are the Jamaicans in Brooklyn?"

DE SHONG: That's not true, that's not true. Because you got the good and the bad and all kind of races of people. I mean, you have Americans, good Americans and bad Americans. Indifferent. Some people just make everybody look bad. They make 22:00a group of people look worse. They have some very ambitious West Indian people that work hard for what they have. Nobody gives them nothing on a platter, and they didn't go rob nobody or sell no drugs to get it. They work hard for it. It's just some people that just come here and they can't wait. They can't wait to work 9 to 5 to see them get the big car and the big house. They prefer to sell their stuff and get $1,000 a day and get everything, all that you want within a year or two years and you don't have to workin and strugglin for 10 or 15 years to get it then. They got some Rastas now, what are they callin them 23:00now, fornicating Rasta. Them is not all they pretend to be. They say they don't eat pork, but they're in the Italian Restaurant buying pork. There's a lot of people that wear dreads that's not religious into it. They just have it on either to hide from police or hide from somebody. You know what I'm sayin? Everybody got dreads now, it's not just Jamaican people. Panamanian. Costa Rican. I mean, American. All kinds of people have dreads now. Some Americans talk like West Indians, so then people think they are West Indian, so they want to push them into another category. Like all of us is bad, so. Everybody wears dreads now. It's style.

WILDER: What other ways do you see American born Black people imitating West 24:00Indian culture?

DE SHONG: Maybe the music. But I can't say that because you know why. In the West Indians, right. Same way the Americans like Jamaican music and that kind of music over here, West Indian people love R&B and disco and hip hop and all that kind of stuff. They hear less of their music.

WILDER: So it goes both ways.


WILDER: Let me throw out one more stereotype to you and you can react to it. There is a tendency now to see all West Indians as Jamaicans, in the media, in 25:00the press, and even in Black American press to some extent. There's a tendency to say that all West Indians must be Jamaicans. How would you react to that?

DE SHONG: I so see it sometimes because when I talk sometimes and people hear me, it's like that's the only West Indian island they know. I guess because of different musicians they hear more than others, because everybody's into the Jamaican music and all of that. And they have Calypso, But no one's really into it but say some Jamaicans are into Calypso. It's mostly the small islands that are into Calypso. So nobody listening to that kind of music. They're basically listening to the more Jamaican music so, I guess they tend to want, I guess if they're listening to that, they feel that everybody is that recording of somebody else.

WILDER: Do you go to a church or a temple or a mosque in Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: I'm an on and off church goer. My kids is baptized and I'm planning on 26:00sending my son for first communion, but I don't go to church as often as I should go.

WILDER: First communion where?

DE SHONG: At St. Matthew's.

WILDER: So you're Catholic.


WILDER: When you go, what is that congregation like?

DE SHONG: They got some young people. It's mixed. But it's more um I'd say they're in their 30's up into middle ages.

WILDER: What ethnic groups are there?

DE SHONG: Like I said, Crown Heights is a mixed community. The church is mixed, a little bit of everybody coming to the church

WILDER: How has Crown Heights changed in your lifetime?

DE SHONG: It got bad, real bad. A lotta drugs, a lotta people dyin, dead, in 27:00jail. I don't know. It's not very much people that I grew up with that are still alive, or if they alive they if they're not dead Like my oldest boy, his father died. He got shot. Killed. If they're not dead, in jail or if they got a lotta kids? I don't know.

WILDER: If you don't mind my asking, how was he shot?

DE SHONG: How was he shot?

CW. Yeah, why?

DE SHONG: It was drug related.

WILDER: Was it in Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: No, in Harlem.

WILDER: Are you fearful of Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: Yeah, I want to leave.

WILDER: In what way? What things are you afraid of most?

DE SHONG: I'm afraid of my kids getting accidentally shot, of somebody thinking they're somebody else and wanting to shoot em.


WILDER: What things do you fear the most?

DE SHONG: The day before yesterday, had that girl who was going to save her son and she got shot in the head. I think about those things. I mean, you're not even safe in your own house. Because I mean a bullet around where I live, I live at Eastern Parkway and Schenectady, they shoot guns over there almost every night. It's like it could hit somebody and what's to stop them from coming to my house and shooting me or hitting one of my kids?

WILDER: When you walk down the street, who are you afraid of? Who do you react to?

DE SHONG: I'm not really scared, I'm just trying to keep myself alert, open-eyed because I grew up in Crown Heights, so who is left out there, I pretty much know. If I don't know you from being in the area, I get to know people that's 29:00around me. I go to work, so I leave for there in the early morning and I come back in the evening time, and I keep to myself. I just keep my eyes open. I can't say I'm afraid of anybody around here. I can't afford to be afraid of anybody. I just have to keep my eyes open and aware of what's around me.

WILDER: Is that what Crown Heights represents to you, increasingly? Do you think about the violence more and more?

DE SHONG: Yeah. Because right there is where I live, there's a lot of crack heads. They go to get drugs in the buildin. And they do all kinds of things to get drugs, drug money.

WILDER: You mean sexual.


DE SHONG: Yeah, downstairs in the first floor of my apartment in the building where I live in. So you got people coming in and out of there. Yeah, I want something better for my kids. And I hope that, I talk to my big one especially, I talk to him so much. I hope that some things that I tell him don't go in one ear and out the other. I play a game with him. I say I want it to go in there and stick. I don't want it to fly back out. The way I look at it, I don't got too much time. He'll soon turn ten. You know, he's going to be eight next month. And so, I figure if you don't get them by the time they're ten, you lose them forever. I really want him to understand what I want for him. You know and at all times I need his respect. He can't disrespect me. I want him to know how 31:00important education is. I just want a whole lot better for them than what I'm having to deal with right now. But they gotta start from somewhere and I'm just trying to find someplace to move in between time.

WILDER: What do you say to your son? You say you talk to him all the time

DE SHONG: I talk to him about. They like to look at other kids' sneakers and stuff like that and I tell him, "You can't always watch what kind of shoes these other kids have on, because sometimes when they have on these nice sneakers, they could be bad kids. If they have on such a nice sneakers, they could be nice. You gotta give people a chance. You gotta look at them for what's inside them, than what kind of shoes or clothes they're wearing." I was showing him the 32:00guys outside, young guys, selling drugs and stuff like that. I said I want more for him than that. I tell him either you get a good education or you get homeless, or you turn a bum, start taking drugs. It's either one or the other. Either you go to school, get a good job, go take care of yourself, or you turn a bum and get homeless, and get dead or go in jail.

WILDER: So for you education is a real key?


WILDER: If we shift to something easier, what do you like best about Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: What do I like best about Crown Heights? About the only thing I like about Crown Heights right now. Where I'm at is that I'm close to the train, it's 33:00convenient for me to go on the train, and my parents live in Crown Heights, so my sons can see their grandparents. That's about it. I have a roof over my head and I praise God for that, you know, because some people don't even got that. There's not too much about Crown Heights that I like anymore.

WILDER: If you were going to describe your community to an audience that had never been to Crown Heights, what would you tell them?

DE SHONG: Hm. What would I tell them? It's about strugglin. Crown Heights. I mean, either you're struggling to have something or trying to keep it before you 34:00lose it. A lotta kids don't care no more. Say, if you're pregnant, that don't even hold no sanctity. You're not saying you have a good baby in your belly, you have a small child. It's a struggle livin in Crown Heights. It's a struggle. Besides what happened with that thing on President Street, that little boy, my son knew him. He was in the grade higher than him.

WILDER: This is Gavin Cato?

DE SHONG: Yeah. I mean it's basically people keep to themselves.

WILDER: Your son knew him. How did your family react to that death?


DE SHONG: I didn't know the boy personally. My son used to give him apples If he didn't feel like eatin how whole lunch or something he would give Gavin an apple or share his lunch with him. He seen him sometimes; they were in different grades. It's when I seen the boy in the paper, that my son told me that he know him. That just fueled what was always there and is still there, and that I think is always gonna be there, because it's so sectioned off, Crown Heights, the haves from the have nots. An all of the Jews, when they come in there, some of them just act like they're just plain better than the people. They have a house or apartments over there, that's like just for them. If they have an apartment that's for rent or something, they don't let a Black person livin in there. 36:00They'll go so far as to put the rent sign in Hasidic. Funny how that kind of stuff breeding there. It's always going to be the same, no matter who's mayor. Nobody can stop that. That's something that's imbedded into the society.

WILDER: Are they treated better in Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: Who Jews?


DE SHONG: Oh yeah.

WILDER: How have you experienced that? In what way?

DE SHONG: Millionare's Row, President Street. They got 24 hour watch from Kingston down. They got the cops on the block. They got cops over there on Eastern Parkway and Kingston, patrolling their, what do they call that? The church they got over there. Oh hell yeah. They get over with everything. I even hear there's a bank there over on Kingston Avenue where they can trade in their bank their own food stamps. No Black person can go in there and bank their own food stamps if they have food stamps. I don't get no public assistance. I don't get no help from nobody. Income containers, whatever you wanna call it. And they 37:00got, they on the welfare, they got how many kids, and they living better than me. I gotta live in a slum building. Some of them live in all them newly renovated place. They got the new everything. They don't gotta think twice about nothing. Wherever they come from, Russia or wherever, they got an instant Jew band to come in and take care of them and show them where the welfare place is and where to get the good housing and all that kind of stuff. They just got it made in the shade. To me. Because I mean the poorest Jew is not the same as the poorest Black person. I say the poorest Jew is comin like a middle class Black person in Crown Heights. For you to be on the street homeless and to be a Jew in Crown Heights it's because you definitely want to be on the streets. If you're a 38:00Black person, ain't nobody is going to help you if you don't want to help yourself. That's the bottom line. That's the way they look at it. But if you was a Jew and you need help, and say you don't want that help, it's being offered to you. You could be Black green and if you're a Jew, something is being offered to you. Some kind of assistance is being offered to you.

WILDER: And for Black people there's no assistance. When you talk to your son about things to be aware of and to be concerned about, cautious about, do you talk to him about the police?

DE SHONG: One time, he wanted to be a police you know. He used to always say hi to the police and stuff like that. One time, he said hi to one and they didn't answer him back, he stopped saying hi to them. He started getting aware that not 39:00all of them are as friendly as others. And I tell him you know if you want to be a policeman you get big. Now he don't really want to be a policeman because they get shot and he don't wanna die. I told him, "They have good police and bad police, you gotta know if you want to be a policeman, are you gonna be a good one or you gonna be a bad one?" That's what we talk about. I told him they do crime too. It's like I said if you really wanna be a good police or bad police that's up to the individual.

WILDER: What rumors do you hear about the Hasidim in Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: What kind of rumors?

WILDER: I mean what do you hear about them? What stories do you hear about them? What things do you hear about the Lubavitch?


DE SHONG: Besides that they only care about their own people?

WILDER: Is that a big concern?

DE SHONG: •--. some kind of improvement in what's going on over there. I mean they live there. It's only a matter of time before something like that happens again. It might not be that kind of reason. Something gonna come to flare it. People live over there so good, and you only gotta cross Eastern Parkway to see people livin so bad. On the same Kingston Avenue. Some of them is just like it's all about them. When they say they're God's chosen people, and that's the way 41:00they bring it off to everybody. If they don't do something to-- Nobody said they gotta give you anything. Maybe if they had a center for the kids after school, so that they keep up with the community, and they care about Black people in the community and they want to do something to make friends, or make things a little bit easier to get along. They might not like us, but they gotta live with us. It only takes some little thing to happen to make the whole thing blow up again. They could be trying to do something on their part, trying to make things a little bit easier or make it look like they're not just all about themselves. Maybe that would make a difference. One time, when I go into Kingston Avenue, 42:00sometimes they look at you when you go into the store like you gonna steal something they got in their store. Some of the clothes in there they have for kids, some of them don't have price tags on their clothes, like they have a different set of prices for who comes into the store. Because they care for the Jewish people. Everything they have on Kingston Avenue they don't have to go in nobody else's shops to shop. They go to their own places and shop, support their own people. I think maybe if they supported other races sometimes, not just their own people, maybe that would make a difference. Like I said. Or when it comes to housing, nobody's saying you gotta have all Black people living in your place, you wanna have your group of people there, too. But you gotta give and take. The most beautiful part of Crown Heights, the Jews got. Hard working 43:00people like me or whoever you gotta struggle just to get by. I don't know. Certain things maybe they could do on their part, to make things livable for each group, so you don't feel so bad about them over there, because it's like a different world In some parts of Crown Heights they have over there.

WILDER: And you don't feel welcome.

DE SHONG: No, not really. I had a guy tell me that when he went over there on President Street a certain hour of the night, people were asking him, "What you doin over here?" I mean you just can't walk without going to cause trouble? I mean the street is there for everybody to walk on. So I think, I don't know, 44:00unless they change some of that superior attitude that they have, maybe it will get better, but until then--

WILDER: What do you expect will happen with the tensions in Crown Heights?

DE SHONG: Anything. And it don't matter who's mayor. Anything's possible. I think they're giving the mayor a raw deal. Because I hear they have a FBI investigation going about that guy that got killed in Crown Heights.

WILDER: Yankel Rosenbaum

DE SHONG: Yeah. Ain't nobodyhavin no FBI investigation about Gavin Cato. That Jew man, he's in Israel somewhere having a high time and nobody lookin about bringing him back over here. Extradited him back over here. Fair is fair. You gonna be fair, be fair. You gonna look out for one set of race of people because 45:00you want them to vote for you a little bit more? It's not fair. The majority of Crown Heights helped put that man into power, and he's just kissing all of them damn Jews' ass, and look where it's gotten him. I'd vote for him again, don't get me wrong. They have their own way of thinking about what's going on in this community. And stores. Fine you have your own religion and you're keepin your food, but it don't mean that, I don't know it's just the whole association thing. I don't think anybody's better than anybody. That's the kind of impression you get. I mean I don't think anybody's better than anybody.

WILDER: Thank you. I appreciate the interview.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Roxanne De Shong

Roxanne De Shong was born in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She immigrated to Brooklyn in the 1970s with her parents to Crown Street in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her father sold life insurance and her mother worked near the family home at Woolworth's. She went to a public school in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn for one year, then to Holy Spirit Catholic School for grades two to eight. She attended Clara Barton High School and then Hostoffs in The Bronx. De Shong's major in high school was Dental Assistant and she worked at several offices in New York City. De Shong has more than one child, including a son. Her son's father was shot and killed in a drug-related incident in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan.

In the interview, Wilder and De Shong discuss the cultural differences between Carribean and American born people, the stereotypes associated with West Indians and Jamaicans, and the changes in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn between when she arrived and at the time of the interview in 1993 citing the presence crime, violence, and drugs. The two also discussed the misperceptions, housing, and safety inequities between the Lubavitch and Black neighborhood residents, the struggle to live in Crown Heights, and her son's relationship to Gavin Cato. Interview conducted by Craig Wilder.

This collection contains oral history recordings and transcripts, as well as exhibit materials, from Brooklyn Historical Society's Crown Heights History Project, also known as "Bridging Eastern Parkway." Crown Heights History Project oral histories include audio and transcripts created and collected within the context of an exhibition project undertaken in part by BHS in 1993 and 1994. Three interviewers recorded conversations with over forty narrators. In addition to exhibition product value, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews; topics of discussion include family and heritage, immigration and relocation, cultural and racial relations, occupations and professions, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, media representation and portrayal, and activism. The series of exhibition research materials document the outreach efforts for interviews and materials from the community as well as exhibit scripts and curatorial notes.


De Shong, Roxanne, Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder, August 29, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.07; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Cato, Gavin
  • Clara Barton High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
  • De Shong, Roxanne
  • Holy Spirit Catholic School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Rosenbaum, Yankel


  • Caribbean Americans
  • Children
  • Crime
  • Death
  • Discrimination in housing
  • Rastafarians


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Street (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


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Finding Aid

Crown Heights History Project collection