New York City is full of people. Lots and lots of people. Totally shocking right? The absolutely wonderful part of living with all of these people is not having them touch you on the subway, but the abundance of diversity. I grew up in a pretty ethnically diverse city…it was kind of the definition of a “melting pot”. The people I grew up with were mostly biracial and multiracial. My childhood friends definitely looked like the rainbow coalition. I went to college in a not so diverse city. In fact my school had a very small percentage of people of color which was kind of a culture shock for me. As a result, I surrounded myself with people who looked like me. My circle of friends looked less like Fruity Pebbles and more like Coco Pebbles.
I was excited about moving to a more diverse place again to expand the color of my friendships. What I love about the diversity in NYC is that everyone is PROUD to be who they are. They don’t try to blend in, (or assimilate). They are out and out proud that they are different than you. Not just in culture but style as well. It’s so amazing to see. and soak in. I even planned to go to the West Indian Day Parade just to soak up the awesome, but unfortunately it was raining and I didn’t want to soak up the water.
Although all of this cultural diversity is great, I didn’t really comprehend the existence of ethnic enclaves. Of course I heard of China Town and Little Italy, and Spanish Harlem but I guess I honestly thought they were more of a myth. I quickly got over this naive thought during the first time I was searching for apartments.
Once upon a time, I was on Craigslist and desperate for a place to stay. I was staying in Brooklyn at the time and thought it would be a good idea to find a more permanent place there as well so when I saw an ad for a place in Bensonhurst I was there! When I got off the train, I didn’t really notice anything different. The people were diverse, they were like that everywhere. I saw two Black people on the platform so I felt pretty comfortable. I didn’t know that the only place I would see Black people were at the train station.
As I was wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood because I was lost walking I noticed there were a lot of buildings with Chinese writing and a lot of Asian people. I thought “Cool!” As I continued to walk around the city blocks in circles, I caught several strange faces directed towards me and soon realized that besides the two Black people at the train station and myself there were only Asian people. I then thought “Oh.” Even still I thought this is interesting but no big deal. After 40 days and nights I finally made it to the apartment and met the girl looking for a roommate. The tour was quickly over and as I was leaving the girl asked “Do you have any family here?” Assuming she meant in New York I quickly smiled and said “No. I just graduated and moved here less than a month ago.” It was something I was telling everyone during that time. Prior to closing the door she said “Oh, this is mostly a Chinese neighborhood.” Well, I can see that. What she meant was I didn’t belong there and that was completely fine. Although I’m sure Barney and Mr. Rogers would not approve of her message.
I guess it would’ve made sense to Google the neighborhood first and find out it was basically the Chinatown of Brooklyn. But how was I supposed to know? How does anyone know? Do New Yorkers just know from birth? I wish would’ve paid more attention in history or something. The positive outcome was now I know that it is important to me to live in a neighborhood that isn’t culturally homogenous. Lesson Learned.