Take a forty-minute subway ride north on the D-train in New York City, and you’ll find an area long forgotten: the Bronx. In general, the borough has been underrepresented as an area of violence and crime – and Yankee Games – but what most people miss are the little treasures that hide around the corners.
Get off at Fordham road, and let your senses get smacked by the energy and frenzy of the busiest shopping district in the borough. Gap, Conway, Footlocker, Easy Pickins, and a Nine West Outlet are just a few of the many shops that line the road. Follow the street downhill, and you’ll come to Fordham University, and the surrounding Belmont area.
When I first arrived in the Bronx, almost four full years ago, the Bronx was something unknown to fear. When you hear about the crime, and are told not to walk alone at night, pay attention to your surroundings, carry mace, etc…you automatically put up a guard. And although, yes, it is an area with crime, it is not as scary as people think. Nor is it devoid of good.
Most of the people who live here are not criminals. Most of the people who live here are not out to steal your iPhone. Most of the people who live here are working class families. And while the Bronx is technically an area with high-risk schools and increased poverty levels, it doesn’t mean that it is someplace to ignore completely. Of course, there are other areas in the borough I wouldn’t wander into, but Belmont is different.
I love my neighborhood. I love when the school across the street lets out and the kids go and hang at the bus stops. The amount of energy they alone carry is enough to make you appreciate the residential nature of Belmont. We have competing delis: Campus Grille and the Best Deli and Grille. Stop in and say hi to the guys who work at the counter in Best, they are more than willing to talk to you. Ask where they are from – they’ll tell you, “the good part of Yemen”. They will remember you, and ask you about your week.
We also have this little gem of a road, which older generations remember — and Fordham students know — but is largely forgotten by the usual guidebooks. They call it, “The Real Little Italy”. Arthur Avenue: a row of Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries; the old home to a large Italian population. The Little Italy on Mulberry St. in Manhattan is now a tourist destination, and although it has an amazing history of Italian immigration, eventually people moved out of the area, and now what’s left are the restaurants. Arthur Ave was also an Italian neighborhood where families flocked. It was once home to the Mafia (rumored), home to Italian families who owned the restaurants downtown, and now those families still own restaurants on this street.
On Saturday afternoons, you might not get a parking spot; it’s a madhouse. People still drive into the area to go to the Italian market and buy fresh goods. Stop in Palumbo’s bakery, and talk to owner Paul Palumbo, who will go on for hours about the street’s history and his pride. Go to Dominick’s, and ask for what you want, sans a menu. And of course, the famous Full Moon Pizza (Best. Pizza. Ever.) is on Arthur as well.
Being a part of a place involves an emotional investment. When you talk to people who run the businesses, or the people who frequent them you develop a special connection. Even bad interactions add to your experience of a place. A place is as much of an experience as is attending an event. Despite the years of people moving out of the area, you still find a certain community atmosphere. It doesn’t hide its identity, and the good and bad are one package that have built a home.
Home is where you feel accepted, and you feel a pride in where you live. It’s being on the inside; knowing it like the back of your hand. I am very good at walking quickly at night, and not taking my phone out – just as a precaution. I still need to be safe, but I find comfort knowing that this “dangerous” place is where I live, someplace where I find a community of others who understand the beauty in tradition, the fun in a busy Saturday; and others who understand that you get what you give. If you give energy to your area, you’ll get a good response; whether that’s pride in your street, or developing relationships of sorts with your fellow community members. It becomes home.
More people should visit the Bronx. There’s liveliness and energy, and a pride that can’t compare to other places. (And – don’t think about insulting it. Only we can do that). Most people know about the large Botanical Gardens, and the infamous Bronx Zoo (especially due to Mia the Snake who escaped from her cage a few years ago), and they are worth a trip – but they aren’t everything. It’s also the birthplace of hip-hop, so brush up on your music history. We have tours, a museum and other day activities (besides a Yankee Game) to fill your time. So come take that D-Train north, and spend a day up in the Boogie-Down Bronx.