Transplants Are New Yorkers, Too
Transplants Are New Yorkers, Too
Were you born in NYC? Have you lived here your entire life? Do you wander through comment sections of websites like this one, swinging your Five Borough birthright like a club at any non-native man, woman, or child who dares to hold personal opinions about "your" city?
As some of you know, I live in Brooklyn. Before that, I lived in Manhattan, Virginia, Vermont, New Jersey, and glamorous, post-industrial Connecticut, where I was born in 1988. I haven’t lived in Connecticut since I was six. Am I "from" any of those places? All of them? Some of them?
Does it matter?
According to Real New York Birther Code, the geographical whereabouts in which your heart began to beat matters The Most. If you listened to these slavishly insecure, Gotham-hatched headcases -- if you actually assigned value to the things they wrote at the bottom of articles like this one -- you might decide that your entire person is fully formed by your first human breath, that your entire lived experience is innately informed by where you first filled your lungs. You might conclude, in other words, that you’re not a real New Yorker unless you were born here. After all, they were, and they said so.
Where am I going with this, besides straight to the special circle of Hell reserved for writers who feed the trolls? Oh, right, the point: where you’re from only matters as much as you allow people to tell you it matters. And those maniacal 212ers, 646ers, and 718ers who try to tell me that I can’t express opinions about my lived experience in New York City? They can’t tell me nothin’.
Not that they don’t try. Oh lord, do they try. I publish a lot of stories here on Thrillist New York. Each time, the comment section is littered with countless echoes of this same refrain.
"You’re probably just a transplant."
Joe from LeFrak might call me a “hipster douchebag who probably wasn’t even born here,” blissfully unaware that even cable newscasters stopped earnestly calling people “hipsters” about three years ago. Linda from Bay Ridge will tell me to “go back to Murray Hill with daddy’s credit card,” despite the fact that I live in Fort Greene, my Mom is the breadwinner in my family, and she won’t let me anywhere near her credit card. Kacey from New Dorp may chime in, if only to remind me that “bridge-and-tunnel whiners like you are exactly what’s ruining old New York,” even though Staten Island is actually more “New Jersey” than a lot of actual Jersey.
You are wrong because you are not us. You can never understand us.
Sometimes, this is sound logic. Race relations & sexual preference, for example -- it’d be condescending & irresponsible for me, as a straight white man, to claim license to discuss the experience of a queer black woman. Because that’s not my experience. Remember that piece I wrote about tipping? After we published it, I realized I’d overstepped my boundaries, because though I work with servers on stories, and have tremendous respect for their profession, I’ve never actually done the work myself. So I wrote a follow-up acknowledging the mistake. When you don’t write what you know, you’re at an ever-growing risk of missing the point.
Other times, though, this counterpunch is thrown not to instruct, but to prohibit. Like, for example, writing about the experience of living in New York City. I ride the same subways, schlepp groceries bought in the same narrow aisles, and pay the same $7 for the same crappy beers. I know what these things feel like because I do these things. I have as much license to talk about them as the sucker sucking back seven-dollar suds next to me, no matter whether he was born in Soho, Staten Island, Upstate, or -- gasp -- somewhere beyond the boundaries of New York entirely.
The Born & Raised bunch are vocal, venerable, and self-serious. If were a New York fabulist -- someone who indirectly insinuated that he was born in NYC by writing about “authentic New York,” with its “subway tokens” & “murder” -- I would fear the all-seeing fanaticism of their wrath. That would make me a liar and a poseur, bloody chum in the murky waters of the comment sections, subway cars & dive bars where sharks from Washington Heights & Boerum Hill hang out. They’d tear me apart for gentrifying their city, co-opting their sacrosanct heritage, and stealing their thunder. Maybe they’d be right.
But that’s not what I am. I’m just one more transplant in a city full of them. I like writing about what I see, hear, and sometimes smell in this sprawling metropolis, and I’m lucky enough to do it professionally. Why is that so threatening, birthers? That if non-natives participate in shaping this city’s cultural future, it will somehow steal away the “New York” in your blood? First of all, grow up. Second of all, consult a doctor immediately, because if there’s even a drop of actual New York in your blood, you’re just minutes away from scurvy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m always right. Lord, almighty, no it doesn’t. Often times, I’m dead wrong -- but not because I wasn’t born here, just because I am occasionally daft. When the bloodthirsty natives stumble across some fuzzy Infante logic, though, they have a lot of trouble grasping this principle, and its inverse. My wrongness isn’t specifically linked to the fact that I wasn’t born here, just like there’s no inherent rightness attached to being born here.
So, am I a New Yorker, or an asshole from New Jersey, or a preppie douchebag from Connecticut? We’ve gotta categorize each other, right? I’ll let you decide for yourselves which bucket I belong in. See you in the comments.
Oh, and by the way: Hoboken isn't really a part of New York City. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably wasn’t even born here.
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