Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer in the Melting Pot

Summer in New York City is a hot, muggy, crowded, filthy, pungent and at times, cranky affair. Hanging on to a subway pole can inspire a mad dash to the nearest bodega for a small bottle of Purell. Yet riding the subway in less than pleasant conditions reminds me of what I love about the place: its diversity. Crammed together are New Yorkers of all ethnicities, complexions, tongues, ages, professions, stations, fashions, orientations and persuasions. Tossed in for good measure are tourists from all over the world.

Last weekend’s visit captured this amazing heterogeneity. I enjoyed Bryant Park with a Colombian American graduate student. I attended my first House ball at Roseland with a White Puerto Rican architect. At the House of Latex Ball, African American and Latino gay and transgender people strutted, danced and vogued, blurring gender and social lines. I had brunch in Chelsea with an Irish American Episcopal priest and his Latino partner of over 25 years. I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a native Virginian comfortable with now being a minority. I sat next to a long married couple at church, one an ardent Republican, the other a hardcore Democrat. I was introduced to a group of radical Asian Pacific Island lesbians by a Filipino priest-cum-social worker and his Chinese American husband at a Filipino Thai bistro in the Lower East Side now overrun by White yuppies.

It comes as no surprise then that a couple I know choose to raise their five year old daughter in Manhattan. Rather than moving to Washington where she can easily find work as a policy researcher and he as a financial analyst, they opt for tight quarters in a vibrant city. “I’d like my daughter to grow up among people who are different from her … I’d like her to know diversity.” No doubt the precocious little one will learn and laugh with other children not as fair or fortunate as her.

There is something to be said about having neighbors who look, sound, believe and live differently. Over 8.3 million people speaking roughly 170 languages live within 305 square miles. More than a third are immigrants. Millions more come in daily to work and play. I’ll never forget what a trucker told me years ago. “You know when I came here from Trinidad, I didn’t know any gay people and I thought you were all freaks. But after I moved here, I realized that you aren’t so bad. Actually, you people are nicer to me. You treat me with respect when I deliver furniture.” And at one of my first Pride parades, a Latina cop said, “We like your parade – you guys are fun and well-behaved.”

And I thought as I clung to the clammy subway pole, you’re not too bad yourselves.

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