"The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding." - John Updike
After almost a decade of living in New York, I'm now being forced to leave my favorite city in the world because of a broken immigration system. I'm more American than Uncle Sam at this point - my accent, my speech patterns, my liberal millennial entitlement, my mannerisms, my dress sense, my completely inability to understand sarcasm, my unhealthy (and recently developed) obsession with bacon - but that counts for nothing when some idiot fresh off the boat with an engineering degree can land a job in rural Wisconsin. Who cares if he doesn't speak English, America needs workers to fuel the very fictional American dream! USA! USA! Do I sound bitter? Because I am.
Having lived in New York City for a much longer time than the average New Yorker (this is a very transient city: many people pass through here, but very few stay), I like to think of myself as a New Yorker. I know all the spots, I know where to go, I know the people to know. Everyone who moved to New York after me associates me as their initial tour guide, the girl who represented all things New York. The girl who always had a seat at Fashion Week, the girl who knew where the free rooftop movies were, the girl who understood the importance of sacred Sunday brunches, the girl who had the hookup for the cheapest Brazilian wax with the life coach/refugee Tibetan lady, the girl who scoffed at "famous" pizza joints and took you to the real foodie spots. New York has been a ridiculously large part of my identity. And now I have to leave it. I've tried to reconcile that with the fact that sometimes, New York can get a bit overwhelming. Having always been a city girl, I never understood the people who said it was too noisy or too crowded: this was just the life I'd always known. In fact, the suburbs and rural areas creep me out because of how un-noisy and un-crowded they are. Like, human habitation much? What does one do in New Hampshire when one desperately needs Ethiopian food at 3 AM? And where the hell is your neighbor's window?
Faced with the choice of living as an illegal immigrant when my student visa ran out (4 years at NYU undergrad and 2 years as a graduate student at Columbia, but fuck education right? Why should that count for anything?), or marrying my boyfriend of 8 months who very graciously offered to take me to city hall for a green card wedding so we could continue dating while he saved up for a ring, I decided to not follow the path of a mail order bride and graciously retreat to my "home" (even though the green card would have, in 3 years, resulted in a much-easier-to-travel-with American passport, see Travel Fury). But while I think back to my 8 years here, I have come to some conclusions.
I've realized that what makes New York great is not just New York. If you just considered the city with all its architecture and pop culture moments and music and events and food, it would seem very much like the cold place it really can be (The Onion: 8.4 million New Yorkers suddenly realize that New York is a horrible place to live): it's expensive, it's crowded, it smells, unless you have a sizeable trust fund, you really can't afford a decent apartment without 90% of your paycheck going towards rent, it's unsafe. But the people. Oh good lord, the people. They are incredible.
They are international and intelligent. They are fun-loving and existential. They are diverse and hilarious. They will go to Long Island to bungee jump with you, but they will also get drunk in shady anarchist bars in the Lower East Side and discuss politics. They will stand with you in line at a bar with bridge and tunnel people, but they will also go with you to the Met with your new European friends that you met later that night. They will be judgmental of your shoes but tolerant of your religious beliefs. They are productive, creative, inspiring members of this weird niche little New York society. New York can have it's strict social strata, but if you're a normal human being, you can come away with the most beautiful variety of friends, lovers, acquaintances, and, if you're lucky, family. New York is not really America: it is a hub. It's where people from around the world visit at least once in their life, and if they're lucky, get to live.
Its very specific systems have given rise to some spectacular cultural specifics: like how the same people who party all night thanks to the 24 hour New York City subway and get spontaneous tattoos at St Marks Place will bring their children to Central Park the next day in matching sailor outfits like the perfect 1950s nuclear family. Like how they'll fight to the death arguing over where you can get the best dollar pizza. Like they'll agree that Manhattan is too expensive a place to live but Brooklyn is far too much of a hipster haven to take seriously. That they'll realize that the best ethnic food is in Queens just a subway ride away but they'd rather not leave their borough on the weekends because ain't nobody got time for that and Netflix just started streaming a new original series like come on priorities bro. New York, therefore, is not really part of the United States: its its own little microcosm of a weird melting pot of culture and oxymorons. I wish I could sign up for that passport instead of an American one.
I don't think Sinatra was exactly right: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Making it here requires a very particular set of skills (and sometimes a very severe lack of others), which will, more often than not, render you useless as a citizen of literally anywhere else. But most people, if they look in the right places and embrace this crazy wonderful city in its entirety, can make their time here amazing, unforgettable, and always carry it in their heart.