Much has been made of Geraldine Ferraro's Italian background. But if the United States is a country of immigrants, her home borough of Queens indeed provides a vivid reminder of this heritage.
In Astoria, the busy streets are lined with bakeries, meat markets, green grocers, and pizza shops - all with a distinct international dash. A line of people wait for lottery tickets at a newsstand that has more newspapers in Greek than in English. Not far away a mother calls to her two daughters in Spanish in front of a store that advertises ''frutas y vegetales.'' At a subway stop a young man reads a book written in Vietnamese.
Alan G. Hevesi, a Democratic state assemblyman and a teacher at Queens college, has Ms. Ferraro as one of his constituents. He notes that in addition to the ''incredible mix'' of ethnic groups and different nationalities, there is another distinct thread in the borough's fabric.
''If there is a Republican enclave in New York City, it is located in Queens, '' he says, mentioning the pockets of conservative property owners that the borough has. Although the borough is heavily Democratic, Ronald Reagan lost here by a relatively narrow margin of less than 18,000 votes in 1980. And in Geraldine Ferraro's district, President Reagan won.
In addition to the many traditional ethnic groups in Queens - Italians, Jews, blacks, Irish - there are also new immigrants, such as Central and South Americans, Iranians, Soviet Jews, Indians, and Asians. Unlike immigrants of the past, who were often poor and uneducated, many of these new immigrants come to the US with middle-class backgrounds and values, according to a survey by Queens College.
Whether or not Mondale-Ferraro can capitalize on this mixed population remains to be seen. At a rally yesterday in Queens, the crowd seemed to reflect the diversity of the borough itself: blacks, Hispanics, and Italo-Americans were there, as well as such Democratic favorites as union groups and senior citizens.
Some observers here do not think that Ronald Reagan's success here in 1980 was such a surprise - or that it will be duplicated this year.
Gloria D'Amico, who has taken a leave of absence as chief clerk of the Queens Board of Election to run for Geraldine Ferraro's Ninth District seat, says she doesn't think Ronald Reagan's policies were the issue in 1980.
''He was an alternative [to President Jimmy Carter],'' she says. This year the federal deficit could hurt the President in Queens. Mr. Hevesi points out that the Queens vote for Reagan was not higher than in other areas where Democrats defected. He is not willing to predict what will happen this fall, but he says that ''if there has been slippage'' in the Democratic party here, it will likely be recouped by the presence of Ms. Ferraro on the ticket.
Some voters agree.
''I think she's terrific,'' says a woman in Forest Hills, who adds she admired Ferraro's work in the Queens prosecutor's office before she became a congresswoman.
''The President is very capable, and he has a young way about him,'' says the woman, who did not vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and will not this fall. ''But (Geraldine Ferraro) is for everyone.''
Business partners Cathy Bellizzi and Mona Piontkowski are both excited about the addition of Ms. Ferraro to the Democratic ticket, and both intend to vote for Mondale. But there are still conservative voters in Queens. Paul Morrissey from Jackson Heights is president of Morality Action Committee Inc., a group which protests Ms. Ferraro's voting record on abortion issues. He led a small group of protesters at the airport when Geraldine Ferraro returned from the Democratic convention.
''We will question her on this,'' says Mr. Morrissey. ''And we will campaign for Ronald Reagan.'' When asked about Ms. Ferraro's popularity in Queens (she won her last congressional race with 73 percent of the vote), he says most voters in the district vote on what a politician does for constituents here in Queens.
''Ninety percent couldn't tell you what and how she voted,'' he says.
''I voted for Ronald Reagan last time,'' says a woman with her daughter in Jackson Heights. ''I don't know what I am going to do this time.'' She is pleased that Ms. Ferraro has been chosen, but she is also happy with the way President Reagan is running the country, particularly regarding the economy. Her husband also says he isn't ready to cast his ballot. But he doesn't know if he wants someone ''with so little experience'' next in line for the presidency.