I began this blog in the spirit of celebration of the astonishing array of immigrant cultures that thrive in New York City. It’s not simply the different foods, customs, and architecture that we can experience as home-town tourists; it’s the people to whom their culture means something who make it live and breathe. The neighborhoods I visit are more or less enclaves—though often enclaves interwoven with each other—where new American residents can feel that they belong, and they don’t have to wonder whether they’re doing it right. This feeling of certainty fortifies our souls.
So when I try to understand the point of view of those who feel threatened by immigrants, I imagine that their towns—especially small towns where nearly everyone shares the same background—offer the same sense of certainty as an enclave. And that when seemingly all of a sudden the population starts swelling with people who speak another language, it may feel like an attack on your shared values, your certainty, your security. And there may be real problems, culture clashes, competition for jobs. Lifelong residents have concerns and deserve to be listened to, just like lifelong New Yorkers whose neighborhoods are gentrifying and feel their sense of community threatened. But if we focus on the problems themselves—rather than pledging allegiance to us versus them—we can find solutions.
We are rewarded by a richer world. Whether I’m weaving down the sidewalks of Chinese Flushing, buying Lebanese olive oil in Bay Ridge, or enjoying tacos in Corona—or merging with the Yemeni bodega owners rallying at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, above—I’m cheered by how much we have in common as ordinary humans. It’s not my culture, but I am treated with courtesy. These are all my neighbors, and if I want this to be a neighborly world, it’s up to me to stand with them. Love wins. If it doesn’t, what kind of home are we left with?