There’s very little that can be said about New York City that hasn’t already been said. And yet my first experience of New York leads me to conclude that it is a city that is remarkable because of its potential to be many different things for many different people.
My visit to New York was defined by the great American ideals that permeate the city and its deep history.
The story of migrants in New York and across America is one of the truest testaments to the success of the American dream and the ideals that support it: hope, opportunity, reward for effort, and individual liberty for all.
The traditional embodiment of these ideals is surely the Statue of Liberty, Bartholdi’s La Liberté éclairant le monde. Viewing her today, one can only imagine the feeling that the sight of Lady Liberty must have inspired in voyagers making their way to a better life in America – the promise and hope that this great land has been for so many – irrespective of race, gender and creed – throughout the centuries.
A more tangible reflection, however, can be found by taking a simple stroll through Little Italy, Chinatown and the Civic Centre down to the World Trade Centre and the Financial District. This journey had special significance for me, given my heritage, but I have complete confidence that the city holds much the same experience for others from a wide variety of walks of life.
A particular highlight of my visit was the Museum of Chinese in America. The story of Chinese-American migrants is one of endurance, determination and perseverance, from the opposition driven by organised labour unions that lead to the Chinese Exclusion Act to the acceptance of Chinese-Americans resulting from a shared struggle in World War II.
Chinese-Americans may be considered a ‘model minority’ for their industriousness and work ethic, but these virtues have too often proven no shield to racist sentiments like those of organised labour during the mid-to-late 1800s. Indeed, one wonders if the ‘reverse racism’ experienced by Asian-Americans as a result of affirmative action policies at the heart of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard is, in some way, a subconscious reflection of much the same attitude.
Nevertheless, the spirit of Chinese-Americans has endured and allowed the Chinese community to flourish in the New World. New York Chinatown has grown throughout the years, almost entirely subsuming Little Italy and bursting at the seems. I can’t but take some small degree of pride in this feat.
Walking along Mott St, New York’s own Silk Road from Little Italy to Chinatown, I could feel a personal connection to both branches of my family history and a truer appreciation for why my own ancestors made the journey to America more than a century ago.