Since moving to New York, I’ve had quite a number of people ask me about New York and my life here. What’s it like? Do you like it? (As if everyone either loves New York or hates it… but mostly loves it.) I’ve wanted to write about it, but had a persisting writer’s block. I think part of that had to do with my involvement in classes, but part of that was because I was still trying to figure it out myself. How am I supposed to really know if I like a place when I’ve only been here a month, two months, even 3 months? That’s not enough time for me to fall in love with a place or decidedly dislike it, especially when I have had little to no time to explore it and understand it. I think there is this expectation from some people that I will adapt and become a “New Yorker.” I’m not sure what that’s really supposed to mean, because I think it means different things for the people that live here.
When people think of New York, many people think of the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Times Square, the World Trade Center, Central Park, the Empire State Building, or things like that. So here’s an interesting fact: the Statue of Liberty is actually not part of New York City; it’s owned by the state of New Jersey. Wall Street is just another stop on the train and where I go every Monday for student seminars. On a whole, not that impressive unless you’re talking about the amount of money people probably spend on those suits. I believe that most “New Yorkers” stay away from Times Square as much as they possibly can. I admit, it looks impressive when it’s all lit up at night, but it’s good for a snapshot and that’s all. After that, the tourists start getting in the way and it’s like rush hour on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles; you have to swerve to get around people. I see the tip of the Empire State Building frequently when I’m downtown at night and it is quite pretty, but at the end of the day, it’s just another skyscraper with a famous name.
To me, New York is so much more than that. It’s not just about these buildings or monuments. It’s about the people and the diversity that are the fabric of the city. You can travel to different parts of the city, like the South Bronx, or Washington Heights, Harlem, Sunnyside Queens, Chinatown, or downtown Brooklyn, and find wildly different people and scenery. The South Bronx is one of the poorest areas in the nation and predominately black. I’ve accidentally jumped on the D train headed for the Bronx, not only to realize that I was on the wrong train, but that I was the only white person on the train. The area I live in, Washington Heights, is predominately Dominican and most people here speak Spanish. Sunnyside, Queens is home to the only Paraguayan restaurant in New York (and possibly the only one outside of Paraguay) and it has more of a suburban feel to it. Chinatown is this strange area very close to Wall Street, but still filled with middle-class to poor people, many of whom don’t speak English. In Brooklyn, the top five languages spoken other than English are Spanish, Russian, Chinese, French, and Yiddish; Creole is in the top ten. Yiddish and Creole aren’t even among the world’s most spoken languages, but they are in Brooklyn.
One of the funny things about New York is that it’s an existing, perpetual oxymoron. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can find such vast diversity, but most of these diverse groups stay segregated from one another. In one city, you have one of the biggest financial centers of the world and some of the poorest people in the country. Many of the country’s most renowned institutions and intellectuals and fashion gurus claim this city as their home. I have also seen people begging in the street and trains and people yelling about incoherent life problems to unwilling but captive audience in subway cars; I’ve seen people dancing on subway platforms as if no one was watching, and women screaming at each other because someone touched someone else but wouldn’t move over. I’ve been pushed because my bag was “too close” to someone’s face and shared a laugh with complete strangers over something random that no one else saw.
I am consistently in awe at this city and how it exists with all of its contradictory places and people. There are so many beautiful things here, including the many famous skyscrapers and monuments… even if some of them really belong to New Jersey. There are also some not so pretty parts of humanity that simultaneously exist, even if they are just a few blocks away. And there are these confusing parts that aren’t necessarily pretty and aren’t necessarily ugly, but they exist nonetheless. It’s this beautiful, contradictory, and sometimes tragic mosaic that is pulsating and always moving, even after tragedies like Hurricane Sandy. When it comes down to it, I think that’s what I like about New York.