Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Love Letter to Immigrant Working Class New York

I may live in Artisanal Park Slope, but immigrant working class New York is where I feel most at home.
It's all because of where I grew up in the 1950's- in Lower Crown Heights, sometimes known as "Pigtown." 95 Percent of the people in our neighborhood were Jewish or Italian. The grandparents, who were mostly foreign born, spoke Yiddish or some Italian dialect, the parents, mostly American born, spoke English and we, the children, spoke the language of popular culture. The mixing of cultures, and languages created conflict, confusion, and an almost electric level of energy. Nowhere were you safe from being yelled at, threatened, instructed or hugged. There was no privacy, Arguments were in the home, the street, in the stores, even in school. But God forbid someone should come from another neighborhood to hurt us or challenge us. As much as we fought with one another, we were together when facing outsiders.
And even though none of us were rich, we had the best food, the best music, the most colorful language, and the confidence that given half of a chance, we could succeed in this strange and wonderful country which we were not only turning into our home, but were changing as much as it changed us.
This is why I love the Bronx. When I walk the streets and go into the schools, I see myself and my friends from 60 years ago-re-invented as Dominicans, Albanians, West Africans, West Indians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and South Asians- as crazy, confused and full of energy as we were, and making America a better place for their presence-- just as we did.