For millions world over, New York City is a mythical place. It’s the Big Apple, where stars are born, and the city that famously never sleeps. In my family, it was always an explanation and some of my earliest memories as a traveler come from that famous town. For a number of reasons, the city has been on my mind these past few weeks, so I wanted to share my discovery of the city with GoGirl.
I am fascinated by the sharing of cultures and languages, all of which eventually led me to New York City to do a bit of research on a subject that had become near and dear to me as I discovered more about my Latina heritage. Growing up in a rather homogeneous town in mid-Ohio didn’t always make it easy to learn about being Puerto Rican. I struggled with identity from a young age. Actually, it took moving to Barcelona and learning Spanish fluently (with a very un-Puerto Rican lisp) to really feel that I had ownership over my heritage (and to realize that sometimes you just have to invent your own).
I went to New York City to continue discovering about my Latina background, while working on part of the research I was completing for my senior thesis. I had been to Manhattan before, but it was a new experience for me because I was all by myself. It was late when I got into the city- the roads were awful as is typical in January on the eastern coast.
Bundled in my coat with my mom’s hat on my head, I navigated the subway and made it to the show I was trying to see on time. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe was a cozy respite from the snow flying in the air, and I took out a notebook to start scribbling notes on all of the questions I was asking the bar tender. I quizzed him about the history of the space and the social significance of the poetry created there. As soon as he had had enough of my questioning, he introduced me to the lead singer of the band performing that evening.
From him, I learned about a cultural revival of nuyorican heritage through traditional music. Couples dined on picnics, while laughing over glasses of wine. Women and men danced, and few were able to keep from moving with the beat. It was late by the time the show was over and I successfully caught a cab to my Brooklyn hostel, where the owner was waiting up to let me in.
After a good rest, I made myself some oatmeal, zipped up my boots and set out for a long day of research and exploration. I went to several libraries, a few museums, and looked at documentation of a poetry movement that I was beginning to connect to my own experience growing up Latina- well, at least a little.
My personal conceptualization of New York City was shrinking as I walked in Central Park during a snow flurry- it’s funny to think that in the largest outdoor space in the city, I started to feel more comfortable. I grabbed a coffee to warm up before I headed out on my way to another adventure. The Big Apple is indisputably a large city that takes years to learn, but after that weekend, I began to own just a small corner in my mind.