When Ted Cruz insinuated Donald Trump embodied “New York values,” we all know he meant to make this sound sinister and played upon people’s negative impressions of New Yorkers. This week’s New York primary has everyone talking about the values of the people who live in this state. For anyone who has spent time or lived in New York, you know it can bring out the best and worst in people. For me, I remember the best of New York values.
I lived in New York City between 1992 and 1996 and moved here right after graduating from college. I have to confess, I didn’t fall in love with this city. I sometimes liked what the city offered and I just adjusted to my new urban life. Even though I had these conflicted feeling about Manhattan, I wouldn’t have traded my experience living here for anything in the world. New York City can be unforgiving — loud, cramped and fast-paced– but my everyday interactions with New Yorkers were priceless.
In Sunday’s Washington Post article, There Are New York Values Ted Cruz Probably Never Expected, reminded me of the values I learned while living in the city. The snapshots of different people sharing their values in this piece showed heart, rare toughness, and a very human side. I can only hope the rest of the country can apply a little New York values to their lives.
During my time in New York, the most striking part of life was the diversity. It is truly a microcosm of the world. I had arrived from Florida State University with a habit of saying “Y’all” that I acquired from living in Tallahassee and my waitressing job at a southern style restaurant. I loved FSU but it was a homogeneous place; mostly a white student body with a small Latino population and even smaller number of African American students. When I started my MSW program at Columbia University, I had never seen so many people of different backgrounds on campus and on the streets— Arab, Asian, Caribbean, African and the list goes on.
The exposure to different cultures helped me value diversity and I carry this with me to this day. I fell in love with falafel sandwiches from Amir’s near campus and Cuban-Chinese food. It was fascinating to learn about the Chinese immigrants from Cuba who fled Castro in 1959 and made a new home in New York City to create this odd and delicious cuisine. Who knew you can get Ropa Vieja and egg rolls in the same place? Only in New York. I didn’t just indulge my palette but experienced a melting pot of people who at tried their best to get along with each other. It wasn’t always the perfect, kumbaya experience but it did make you want to try to understand things beyond your own experience.
As an example, while a social work intern at Veritas, a drug treatment center in Morningside Heights, a predominantly Hispanic and African-American community, my classmates and I frequented the small deli next door. The friendly Latino man who worked behind the counter noticed us.
“Why do you all come here?” he asked curiously one day.
“We work next door and I like your turkey sandwiches,” said my classmate.
”I didn’t think you were from around here, so I was just wondering,” he said shrugging his shoulders and smiling as he wiped his counter.
We laughed together since it was obvious we were not from the neighborhood and didn’t fit in but we knew we were welcomed anyway.
People strive to be tolerant and something else people don’t realize is New Yorkers try to be nice, too. If New Yorkers can be nice, everyone should be. Tweet That. I found people in the tight-knit neighborhoods formed within 20 block segments were just as hospitable as a small Southern or Midwestern town.
When I came home to Florida for visits, people would ask me, “aren’t New Yorkers mean?” I would always respond emphatically, “Surprisingly, no.” After puzzled stares, I would go on to describe how people would give up subway seats for older people and pregnant women and about the cashier where I bought coffee and bagels always joked with me and said, “you’re ready to go to work now,” when he handed me my blue Greek cup.
When I left the city to move to the Washington, D.C. area, even though I was ready to leave and live in a new place, I knew I would miss certain things about the city. I would never be a true New Yorker but when I look back on my time in New York City, I’m grateful to have learned these values.