All my life, I’ve been here and tried not to be. I’ve lived in New Jersey, a mere 40 miles south of New York City, all of my 21 years. Jersey is best known throughout the country as “Dirty Jerz,” for being second dwelling to those oven-baked id-creatures that rise from the swamps of Staten Island to invade our shores every summer. Here, we are best known for our proximity to other things. Your experience in New Jersey is based on your proximity to either New York City or Philadelphia, with no regard to the content within our borders. We get Philly or New York television, radio, and especially, newspapers. To the despondence of budding journalists, New Jersey has yet to have a nationally reputable newspaper. This is upsetting.
Considering this, I’ve remained in New York limbo like my hometown peers. New York limbo is something that many people who live close enough to the city, but not in it, experience. There are several types of people, like men from SJ (South Jersey, which is considered a different state than the central and northern regions) who speak with a New York accent and go through the largest of inconveniences trying to be a “New Yorker.” There are people who travel and say they are from New York, because who knows where the hell New Jersey is? There are also, of course, hipster kids who stock up on editions of The Village Voice to establish their own New Yorker authenticity.
Then, there are people like me. I made my obligatory pilgrimage to the Statue of Liberty on a second grade field trip. By the time I could drive, I knew the bridges and tunnels like the back of my hand. Still, the city was never mine even though it was always right there. I see people like me who decide that entering the city — whether to play, learn or move in — requires a personal overhaul. Whether it’s dressing how you wouldn’t normally dress or arguing pointlessly over subway routes or cab fare to prove maximum New Yorker-ness, we hide something in ourselves. Is this a good thing, the result of an energy that pushes everyone to be their ideal version of themself? Or is it the shallow product of intimidation?
I believe local outsiders and residents alike can create a constructed existence to feel solidarity with part of the grand, overpowering whole that is New York. The medical students, the artists, the veterans and the cab drivers all have an idea of what a New Yorker is, and so many strive silently to find themselves in it. On any given night, you can hear a collective scoff at the presence of “bridge-and-tunnelers” like myself, for example. If a venue is considered a “BNT” hangout, it’s considered lame. New York is the great melting pot of peoples and cultures, but so many approach the big city first by changing something about themselves to conform to their own pre-established expectations.
The beautiful thing about it, though, is that New York has no boxes to squish you in. This is one of the only places in the world where you never have to pigeonhole yourself. Here, if you need to find a place to remind you of home, you can. If you seek the opposite, that’s even easier. When you’re in New York City, you’re surrounded by fusions, shattered expectations, celebrations of the best possible version of yourself — if you have the ambition you can find your wings here. I want to help other people see that New York; not the overwhelming, seemingly exclusionary smash of humanity, but their own unique pulse of the city.
I know that I have so much to gain personally by immersing myself in New York. All my life, I’ve been obsessed with faraway places. I imagine plans for the future where I can escape into an exotic culture and feel that somehow, this will illuminate the path to my self-realization. I even spent four months backpacking through Europe, and much longer devouring travel writing and torturing myself with “go abroad” newsletters. All of this is an important part of me, but connecting my past to my future is what could help me grow personally this summer. Joining the two worlds of challenge and change, while keeping my roots, reminds me that I am not only my aspirations (a university student forever in the gray of transition), but someone who comes from here. This is my city too, and by helping others feel less like outsiders by sharing my perspective, I can follow my own personal journey to feel less like an outsider too.