Brooklyn. Just saying the name of this unique place brings a smile to my face. Maybe it’s simply because I grew up here, or maybe it’s because it really is just that special. While most people think of Manhattan when they hear NYC, I’m always quick to point out that Brooklyn in particular is where my home and heart lie.
Growing up in New York City is something I am so grateful for. You are exposed to a level of concentrated diversity that exists in very few places in the world, and as a multiracial baby diversity is something I’ve always been highly cognizant of.
Dusk at Brooklyn Bridge Park
I always thought I could be a chameleon in many ways as I easily get along with a variety of people from all different backgrounds due to the way I grew up. I was constantly exposed to the multitude of cultures and neighborhoods around Brooklyn, picking up and learning the social cues, the lingo, the slang, from each place.
During the week, I was at my playground every day after school getting into trouble with the kids from the neighborhood. Water fights, man hunt, handball, stealing fake tattoos from those old school vending machines in the laundromat…. My old elementary school was and still is one of the most diverse in this district. I was probably exposed just as often to Spanish as I was English. There was also a big population of Arabic and Chinese kids. To this day you still here the evening alarm calling people to prayer. Growing up with kids of different backgrounds seemed as natural to me as simply being. You were picked for teams based on your actual skill set, not what you looked
like. What was more important was how good you were at handball or how fast you could run. When you’re that young, you don’t see the differences in skin color or eye shape. Those things are taught to us by society. Racism and discrimination are learned.
When I wasn’t running around wreaking havoc with the neighborhood kids, my parents would often take us to Park Slope, a predominately upper middle class/upper class, White neighborhood. We would often go to sit in Barnes & Noble, my parents to drink some tea and get out of the house, me to feed my book fix. Here was a different type of culture I was being exposed to, one of quiet and calm, and young, well-off families. The majority of my youth was spent in this neighborhood, having worked as a babysitter for several families over the course of 10 years.
Then the weekends came. Every weekend, for as long as I can remember, my family and I went to Chinatown. Not the touristy Canal Street part, but the authentic Chinatown, with people pushing you out of the way, chickens and ducks hanging in the windows, sidewalks and streets flooded with fluids from the fish markets and other places you probably really don’t want to know about, eating dim sum in a cramped place with people shouting at each other at the top of their lungs. All of this is part of the energy and culture of Chinatown and part of the experience. Though I cannot speak Cantonese, my grandmother’s native tongue, the Chinese culture was very much part of my household.
When I got to high school, once again I discovered parts of Brooklyn that for me as a young kid, were new. My high school was located right off of Flatbush Avenue. Again, extremely diverse school, though it was here when I first noticed kids separating by race. But I made it a point to hang out with people I got along with, not simply what race
they were. A result, I suppose, of being multiracial. Flatbush was a whole new type of world to me. Slang, people shouting at each other, hip-hop blaring from cars, and name brand clothing: Ecko Red, Rocawear, people sporting the new Jordans. I loved it all. As soon as I made enough money (from working in a doctor’s office in Midtown Manhattan – again that upper class culture), I bought my gold name plate necklace, my gold hoop earrings, and I went shopping regularly in Jimmy Jazz and Dr. Jay’s on Fulton, where the vendors blasted rap from their boomboxes and sellers stood in front of stores trying to outshout each other about their cheap prices.
When I look back on it now, I find it amusing and somewhat amazing. From one day to the next I was going from talking to my friends about rap music and buying a name plate ring to match my necklace, to speaking to the families I worked for about college and politics, to eating dim sum in Chinatown. But this is what I always found fascinating
about Brooklyn. The fact that so many different types of people can live in one place, and if they really wanted to, could get to know each other, communicate, and come together to create a place that is truly representative of this country….There’s nothing in the world I would change about Brooklyn. From the riotous music blasting in the streets of Fulton to the beautiful brownstones of Park Slope, every single neighborhood is representative of what BK is and come together to form an inspired plethora of culture and diversity.
This is what I hope Brooklyn holds on to, but the prospects grow dim as gentrification advances at an astounding rate. Those very same store fronts that I used to shop on Fulton have now turned into the Gap, Banana Republic and
American Eagle. The loud vendors hawking their goods have dwindled from five on every street to one. Chunks of Flatbush Avenue are slowly being taken over by vegan restaurants and chic cafes. And while change is inevitable, I would have hoped that it wouldn’t come with the cost of losing the culture of Brooklyn or the cost of families who have been living in Brooklyn for years being priced out and pushed out of their homes.
The question then becomes what can we do? As Manhattaners and out of staters flood into Brooklyn they laud the convenience of having their familiar stores and hip cafes open up, and they forget, or never realized to begin with, that Brooklyn has always had a unique flavor, a flavor distinct to any other part of NYC. And let’s not forget, what of the families who have been here for years and years and are being punished simply for not being able to afford skyrocketing prices? What of their culture? Their hometown?