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April 15, 2006

Ich bin ein New Yorker

Over at First Draft, Scout was talking about the recent immigration rallies and asking how long her readers’ families have been in the United States. I’m between third and fourth generation on both sides and my family's history formed my pet theory of immigration:

The first generation gets here.
The second generation makes it.
The third generation looks around and thinks “There’s got to be more to life than making it.”

I’m proud to be an American (Hmm. Catchy. Someone should write a song . . .) but my real pride comes from being a New Yorker. I was born in the city, at the French Hospital, which is no longer a hospital. One night about a decade ago, I was walking on 30th Street and saw a large building that looked like a converted condominium labeled “The French Building” above the lintel. “Oh my,” I thought, “I was born there.” I hadn’t been there since my birth. I should have been born at Beth Israel Hospital farther downtown, but it seems that I wasn’t going to wait that long as my Aunt Molly was driving Mom to the hospital.

I was raised outside the city in Mamaroneck, but moved back to the city by the age of 21, at first to a tenement sublet share at 21 First Avenue in the East Village when it was only hip in the minds of developers. Mom: “We spent 30 years moving out of that neighborhood only to have you move back?” I moved out of that place within two months to Midtown, had a share at 714 9th Avenue (on the corner of 49th) for six months and then my name on the lease of a two bedroom walkup on 50th & 9th until 1991 when I moved to my present apartment on 56th Street.

I’ve been in New York on momentous days; the blackouts, the Bicentennial, the blizzards of ’93 and ’96 – I didn’t go outside for the one in ’06 – and yes, September 11. I don’t think it’s the momentous days that make one a New Yorker, in much the same way that New Yorkers take pride in not having been to the top of being to the Empire State Building. Being a New Yorker is taking the subway or walking to work every day, the same route every day. It’s shopping at the grocery store with your ubiquitous “old lady” folding cart; the only practical way to shop in a primarily car-less city. It’s grabbing something fast, a bagel or a banana, at the Korean deli. It’s knowing where to get the best hot dog in the city, cheap (Gray’s Papaya). It's the promenade at the State Theater or standing room at the Met. It’s not about the extraordinary, it’s about the quotidian. I go to sleep in the city, I wake up here, I spend my days here. It forms the rhythms of how I think. It’s what I know. It’s my first allegiance. I am a New Yorker.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at April 15, 2006 5:06 PM

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Having just returned from New York (again--my sister was auditioning with the Joffrey Ballet) I loved reading your little hommage to the city!

Posted by: Ariel at April 15, 2006 6:51 PM

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