My mother and sister drove me up to Long Island City on the 21st, where the launch of my study abroad program began. There were numerous hurdles we had to jump; my mother’s anxieties of driving in NYC, my sister’s poor navigation skills (we got lost numerous times) and how I had to go to the bathroom the whole drive through the Holland Tunnel. Despite some bickering, I was able to have a heartfelt goodbye with my mother and sister, who, along with the rest of my family and friends, I will miss very much.
As with all things new, I took some time to get acclimated to my new surroundings. First and foremost, I sleep on the top bunk of a bunk bed, something I haven’t done in a while. Travelling to class I take the subway, which dwarfs Philadelphia’s subway system. You’ve got the A train, the seven train, the R train, you’ve got this train and that train! So many damn trains!
It has also been hard getting back into the rhythm of going to class. We are in sessions from 9am to 5pm Monday thru Friday. We do workshops, have discussions and also go out into various neighborhoods in New York City to do field work. Last week, a group and I went out to Jamaica Queens to meet with a woman who worked to improve business development in the area. The focus of her work was to attract businesses to Jamaica Queens in hopes to build up the economy. How this actually plays out is a different story. This model, known as gentrification, is similar to how many other cities, like Philadelphia, have taken on to address the need for economic development. The reality of most of these business development plans are that they seek to attract outside people; tourists, businesses to name a few, which will ultimately displace residents who have lived in the community for generations. The way people have responded to these issues in a number of ways. One in particular is they have created alternative or informal economies themselves. I learned about a bus service that travels the city bus routes but instead of charging 2.75 each way they charge a dollar. People in the community said that the dollar buses were much more reliable than the city buses! There are definitely problems with informal economies; how workers are treated, represented, whether or not such economies can provide a living, but it is always interesting when people take matters into their own hands and address the issues in their community in innovative ways.
This post may be unusual for a “study abroad” blog, especially one entitled “kyleintheglobalsouth.” NYC is fitting though.
A fellow classmate made an interesting comment about NYC today in a seminar. The “international city” with bright lights that we all love, is romanticized by many. “The Greatest City in the WORLD!!” This romanticizing of NYC marginalizes the experiences of many that are isolated in impoverished housing projects or pushed out to the periphery of city limits. We tend to equate the global south with developing countries, where ills of poverty are realities for most. What does it say about the United States when our “greatest city” is home to such realities?
Although I am more than excited to fly to Buenos Aires on Saturday, I think it has been good to reflect on both the US and NYC in particular. Seeing the reality of NYC, a reality shared by many other American cities, reaffirms the need for the struggles of those in the United States to be put into a global context. Police violence, gentrification, racial discrimination and economic violence are not merely civil rights issues, but human rights issues. These issues are here in America; alive and well.