New York City is a mess. The clean spots are so clean that you know someone is funneling obscene amounts of money into them, and the neglected parts are so messy that you know someone is not listening. The city has its problems—poverty, crime, pollution—but proudly calls itself “the greatest city in the world” over the sounds of taxis blaring their horns, the slow rumble of subway trains, and the unsettling silence of a New Yorker apologizing as they bump into you on the street.
As someone who likes to dwell on the concept of the metropolis, I tend to idealize New York. From owning Lego sets of iconic NYC buildings to consuming every movie set in Manhattan, I have a special place in my heart for New York, the metropolis in its splendor. The museums! The parks! The subway! The view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge! After visiting over the weekend, I can finally put my finger on what sets NYC apart.
New York City is ambitious. It recognizes everything that goes wrong—all the flaws, dysfunction, and imperfections—but remains hopeful. When New Yorkers say NYC is the “greatest city in the world,” they know that the pronouncement alone isn’t enough—yet the ambition still persists. Even when told it can’t be done, NYC pushes, fails, and pushes again until it can be done.
Last Saturday, I visited the Empire State Building an hour before closing–no lines, no big crowds. I stood against the fence on the observation deck and looked on as bright lights lined the city all the way to the horizon. I felt so small and looking down on a view like that that it brought me to tears.
I have not traveled much with my family on vacations outside of the country. Since high school I’ve been fortunate to travel on my own, and I’m thankful my parents supported me going on these trips. Scholarships, subsidies, school partnerships—I never would have gotten to see so many parts of the world without these connections. I have been to South Korea, Moscow, Venice, and now the United States. That night on the observation deck all I could think was I finally made it here. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t tough. I got knocked down a lot but I always got up—because I wanted to get here, doing what I love, doing it my way.
I won’t pretend to have it all together now. I can still be a mess sometimes. Like New York City, I’m dysfunctional, maybe, but still ambitious. There’s a quote that goes something like, New Yorkers are born all over the place, and when they finally get to New York they realize: “Oh, this is who I am.” It’s cheesy and a bit too idealistic. But hey, that’s part of how I got here in the first place.
Written by Diego Gabriel Imao, 2018-2019 Global UGRAD student from the Philippines at Keene State College