US primaries: The King of Queens

Residents of Donald Trump's native neighbourhood of New York City reflect on the presidential hopeful.

    US primaries: The King of Queens
    [Alan Fisher/Al Jazeera]

    As the elevated trains rattle overheard, it is hard to hear yourself think, never mind hold a conversation. But the old man is very patient, and waits. He smiles and points to the sign - the yellow lettering stands out against the blue background.

    "This is where it all started you know - right here in Queens," he said.

    They used to take a sense of pride here that one of the world's most famous business empires took its first steps in this New York borough.

    Fred Trump began building small family homes in the area. They sold well. He took the money and was one of the first to develop the idea of a supermarket. That is what the sign commemorates.

    Using the tag "Serve yourself and Save", he brought thousands through the door. It was such a success that he sold it on within a year and made a good profit. He took that money and invested in property.

    The Trumps were well known in the area. Herta Mansukhani moved to the area 41 years ago. She remembers Trump.

    "He would get picked up by his driver in his limo as I was walking to the train station. Everyone knew who they were. Everyone knew where they lived," she said.

    She does not remember seeing his son, Donald. But then who remembers the kids as teenagers?

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    It was only in later years that he would make an impact, become the face and the name that everyone knows as the businessman, the TV star and now the Republican presidential candidate.

    And the Queens he remembers is not the same. That was a different time. This is a different place. Just a look down the street tells that story. There are flags from all over the world. There are different languages spoken, different religions observed.

    "Queens was different then," Herta tells me. "It was more professional people who lived here, now it is business people from all over the world."

    What was once an overwhelmingly white borough is that no longer. It is arguably the most diverse patch of ground in all of the United States.

    "You can find a Colombian bakery on one street corner, you cross the street and you find a Chinese restaurant. I had my hair cut the other day by a Dominican immigrant," Anthony O'Reilly tells me as we talk in the heart of the area he covers for the community newspaper The Queens Chronicle. "It's America in one borough and I love it."

    He says people from the area were always happy to boast about Trump's Queens connection in the past.

    "He had a big TV show, he was famous, he had the business brand that was known around the world and people were like 'He comes from here'."

    They felt they owned part of his success, that Queens had helped to shape the businessman he became. But his comments on the campaign trail have not gone well.

    "They're not sure about him," says Anthony.

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    We decide to put it to the test and in a highly unscientific survey, we ask people on the street about his comments on Muslims, women, veterans, immigrants and Hispanics.

    One man who identifies as the latter says: "He just has not been respectful. It's not good."

    Another man proudly wearing a NYC baseball cap is angry: "I think he's wrong for what he's about and I don't think he should want to take everybody out who are immigrants. They come and help everybody here. They built this country and it's not right to send them back, you know?"

    The closest we find to a supporter is a woman who is walking, enjoying the spring sunshine: "Look, if you get beyond all of the extra arrogance that he portrays, he has a lot of valid points. It's just his presentation is just very abrasive and it's very offensive sometimes."

    In other parts of Queens, parts that perhaps look more like the place Trump remembers, his support is stronger, and he will clearly take the all-important primary here on Tuesday. He has a commanding lead in the borough and across the state his nearest rival, Senator Ted Cruz, is more than 20 points behind. He is the hometown choice.

    Although Manhattan is now his headquarters and his home, Trump carries memories of his time in Queens. His campaign slogan has been "Make America great again", harking back to what the place was - a rejection of what it has become.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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