The invisible Pinoy in New York City
I live in New York City. It is a city of dizzying extremes, the magnificence of human accomplishment as exhilarating as the grinding poverty and hopelessness that punctuate its streets – an omnipresent stimulant for the soul.
It is where the whole world comes to mingle and play – immigrants, foreigners, expats, runaways, exiles, natives, rural hicks, small-towners, suburbanites, urbanites, lost souls trying to find themselves, stifled souls trying to lose theirs – all swimming in a giant, curdling hodgepodge that simultaneously engulfs and spits everyone out.
Many have said New York does not want to belong to America, that it is the least American of all American cities, that it is borne of the world than of the native land that bore it. And precisely because this city seems uprooted from its own soil, do I feel that I belong here – wayfaring immigrant that I am, traversing the Philippines and the West, resting in-land, but always looking outward.
New York embodies a particular aspiration towards globalization: a gritty, gleaming mosaic of cultures, colors, races and faces. Other American cities undoubtedly have this, but it is only New York City that wears diversity like a badge of pride.
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It is New York where I’ve chosen to put down roots and call home for now. Even after almost 5 years of living in the US, it is only in this maddening urban jungle where I’ve felt the closest to being at home. A born and bred Filipina, I am proud of my roots and am glad to be living in a city that celebrates such multiculturalism.
But as with any urbanite that’s lived in too many cities for their own good, I’ve since realized New York City doesn’t always live up to the hype. This city isn’t the ideal melting pot I’ve envisioned it to be.
In what is supposed to be one of the most diverse cities in the world, it is peculiar that Filipino culture remains absent from New York’s sociocultural fabric. While Filipino-Americans form one of the largest ethnic communities in the New York metro area, one is more likely to spot the insignia of our Asian relatives from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Not only does this include the visible prevalence of their food, language and history, but also the physical existence of their landmarks: New York City boasts the mighty Chinatown and Koreatown, for example, in the convenient center of Manhattan, whereas humble Little Manila is holed up all the way out in the borough of Queens. The only way of ever knowing this authentic slice of Pinoy culture exists is through a Filipino friend or acquaintance, or if you’re Filipino yourself.
It would be unfair to state that New York doesn’t do its due diligence on the Philippines, though. Each year, a cultural festival and parade for Filipino Independence Day take place, drawing tens of thousands to the streets. Filipino food is also finally starting to break out on the New York gastronomic scene, albeit as an “exotic” ethnic trend. Of course, Filipinos will always remain familiar faces in the medical and service industries in New York City.
Granted, there should also be more public awareness of the Filipino movers and shakers in New York society: the politicians, activists, educators, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs. There are so many here that could serve as role models to give our community a face and a voice – a reason to be seen and heard.
The problem does not simply lie in New Yorkers’ ignorance. Sometimes, these so-called Filipino representatives don’t always choose to wear their culture on their sleeves. If this continues, then how can our community ever hope to break out of our invisibility? We might as well stay holed up in our far-flung neighborhoods, away from the mainstream spotlight where much-craved recognition shines.
The painful irony is this: it’s so much easier to celebrate being Pinoy here in New York City than anywhere else I know in America (the West Coast excluded). I know can hop on the subway anytime to satiate my cravings for sizzling sisig and Jollibee. I can befriend any Filipino I encounter on the street and start chattering to them in Tagalog or Bisaya.
And I can certainly promote the Philippines to curious Americans with the easy luxury to recommend the best Pinoy spots in the city. This city is teeming with our cultural promise. But for some reason, we choose to stay in the shadows.
In part, I blame New York’s terrifying propensity towards anomie – the harsh alienation and aimlessness of urban living. New Yorkers can feel at once connected to and disconnected from the myriad of faces they brush past every day. In large part, though, I feel we Filipinos would rather plunge into anomie and embrace the anonymity of the faceless masses than make a name for ourselves in this city.
Someone recently said that New York City is the “blank slate of America” – it is there for the taking, it is what you make of it.
Self-determination – the grit and hustle of the American dream – makes this city unique among the great cities of the world. And while we have hustled our way for decades in this city of dreams, it seems like we as a people and community haven’t really made our mark yet.
It is a damn shame. – Rappler.com