Thursday, March 20, 2008

Places in time II


New York

New York is a special place for me. It where I was born, but not raised, and it is home. In many ways New York is the only place I make any sense.

Ethnically I am a weird white mix: Catholic Northern Irish, Western Ukrainian, Swiss Italian, and Italian (Sicilian/Genoan/Roman). As it break down with me, I look and come off most Irish to people, I feel the most Italian (very much raised in the (non-guido) Italian-American subculture, and I am probably most fascinated by my Ukrainian roots.

The only things all those groups have in common is that they all came to New York at the turn of the last century. The Irish, Italians, and Ukrainians continue to have strong communities in New York. I feel at home with all of them, but particularly with the mixture.

Besides going to college in New York, I grew up with stories, stories about the ethnic neighborhoods. My grandfather's story about how Lucky Luciano attended his uncle's funeral, stories about the neighborhoods that used to be Irish and where they all moved once they got money from the GI Bill, how my parents and grandparent were always told to never take anything from mafia types, and how almost all of the Swiss Italians left New York almost immediately upon arriving for the warmer climate of Southern California. There were also the many, many stories about the great depression (prohibition was funnier) because of which I think my parents essentially consider themselves depression children.

Anyway, New York has never been just a city for me. It has been a story intimately tied to my family. I went to the same college my grandfather did, I live not far from where my grandparents did when they were first setting up, and most of the trendier parts of lower Manhattan are where we used to have a number of relatives. Obviously the city has changed so much I certainly don't feel like I am just rehashing the past, but as I walk around I do feel a real connection, not always sentimental, but a sense of belonging. I feel very at home in the Irish, Italian, and Ukrainian areas. Italian-American food is American food for me. Talkative Irish men all remind me of my grandfather and myself. The Ukrainians instantly remind me of my grandmother and the pictures of her family and church (the food also hits a tender note of home).

Now of course I am also and assimilated New Yorker. I can be quite pushy, I complain, and I am not much of one for beating around the bush. But with my friends here and New York being the center of most of the stories of my childhood, New York is my past and present. It is also a place where almost never feel out of place. But again it is very much the mix of it all that makes me feel at home. Here the table are turned. In New York the born Americans are more often than not the foreigners as are the people only emerging from one culture, as opposed to those who emerged from the tangled web of differing, tangled, and sometimes frictional cultures.


1 comment:

*Watah a' run go a punkin belly* said...

Certainly, the Swiss-Italians were the smartest of the bunch!