Looking out over the tenements of East Broadway. Two Bridges, Chinatown. New York City.
In my last post I wrote about streets that, for me, fill in the image of New York City that exists in my mind. These are streets that represent so much more than merely a geographical spot. These streets are the embodiment of a core concept that has defined New York City for many decades. The sheer density of people that grace these streets with their presence seem to imbue streets like these with the weight of their aspirations.
New York City has always been a destination for those seeking a generalized concept of a better life. As an economic lighthouse and representation of (the steadily crumbling concept of) the American Dream, New York City has attracted people from all over the world especially during the last century.
I grew up the child of an immigrant to the United States. My mother’s family fled Eastern Europe after World War II. They (including her) were victims of the war, concentration camp and labor camp survivors who carried with them mental scars so deep that it took years for them to gain even a small modicum of a foothold here.
I have always felt disconnected from her experience though. My mother who wanted her children to blend in rather than stick out as she did when she immigrated here, did her best to give me and my brothers a fairly normal American childhood where we grew up in Queens. It wasn’t until a decade ago when I started to ask her about her own immigration story after starting to delve into my own fascination with the history of New York City that I started to understand the gravity of what it means to come to a place like New York City with little more than a massive amount of dreams.
And so, shortly after moving to the Lower East Side from elsewhere in Manhattan I came across this street (the one in this photo) since it sits in a neighborhood that borders the Lower East Side and Chinatown and it felt as if I could finally understand what it must have been like for my mother and for all those who came here to America with eyes full of hope.
It’s not that my mother settled here in this neighborhood specifically. But rather that it’s as if this street has been steeped in a time when the world and New York City was a different place, one that held out vast amounts of heady fortune in its outstretched hands. The world has changed quite a bit since my mother first set foot here. It’s harder (dare I say almost completely difficult) to come here with next to nothing and make a decent life for yourself. The hands are still held out but they are no longer outstretched for everyone.
When I look at this street today, I see many of the original tenements that were standing one hundred years ago when waves of immigrants came to New York City following their own hazy image of what New York City embodied in their minds and those who traverse this street today are not so far removed from my mother who traversed the streets of New York City for many decades.
It’s as if, for the few minutes that I spend gazing at this street below (as I often do), I am connected in a deeper way to all of the dreamers that called and still call New York City their home.
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