I used to dream about touching clouds. Perhaps it was from watching one too many episodes of the critically acclaimed show “Gossip Girl,” or from the ecstatic buzz I felt when being engulfed by a sea of people all hurrying to get to their next location, NYC quickly became my definition of a utopia. As I looked back at my reflection in the glass panes of a towering skyscraper, I envisioned myself at the top floor, absorbing in the breathtaking view of the skyline while relishing in a delectable, creamy cheesecake. These fantasies seemed to become more like a reality when as a child, my family and I took trips to the city to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July or gape at the shiny, crystal ball as it slowly descended on New Year’s Day. Chasing after these visions made me slowly begin to become isolated from the community I’ve lived in all my life — Flushing.
As a child, I’ve never had a particular liking for Flushing. Everything seemed pretty static. The food was definitely one of its highlights, but wasn’t enough to astound me. This became a fixed perception I had of Flushing and I rarely ever explored the neighborhood, unless it was to try out new cuisines at the many restaurants that lined the street. Plus, I lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment, and it was far from the life I wanted to be living. Little did I know about the blood, sweat, and tears that my parents put into ensuring that my brother and I had a roof over our heads. My desire to live in the city grew stronger, until at one point, my 12 year old self decided that I was going to take matters into my own hands. I decided that I would devise an ingenious plan to convince my parents that living in the city would be the better alternative. Pushing aside my responsibilities, I spent hours researching and putting together a presentation with statistical data to make my arguments sound credible. It was as I was researching, that I had an epiphany. Viewing the Big Apple through a rose-colored lens made me ignorant to all the ways in which it isn’t a picture perfect neighborhood. Sure, there was an array of trash bags that stood clumped together blocking half a sidewalk and yes, maybe I can catch a glimpse of a rat swimming in sewage water as I waited for a delayed train at the subway station. However, that wasn’t enough to obscure the ideal life that I so thoroughly planned out in my head. Reading about the cons of living in NYC, on the other hand, did. Through articles, I learned about the high costs of living, high rates of employment competition, and increasing homelessness issues that plagued the city. Furthermore, loneliness was a prevalent topic that a lot of influencers living in NYC brought to light. Though it seems like a place that is always busy and where people are constantly moving, the hustle and bustle makes it harder to make friends. The parties or fancy events are exclusively for people who have already established rapport or have some sort of name or power. Seeing these viewpoints being expressed in almost every article I read caused me to question my preference. Was living in NYC really worth it?
After careful deliberation, I decided to step away from the computer and stop researching. I didn’t want to be living in a place where I would feel isolated and could cause difficulties for my parents. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer see myself living in a place that I previously thought so highly of. I then came to the conclusion that I held a romanticized version of the city in my head. As I harbored these discouraging thoughts, I thought about the neighborhood I currently live in. I realized that living in the same location all of my life made me turn away from further investigating what it has to offer. Opening up my computer once again, I started researching Flushing and learned a lot about its rich history and origination. What most intrigued me is how culturally and ethnically diverse the area is. Aptly dubbed the second Chinatown, Flushing’s residents come from Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, Korea, Japan, etc… Many cultural holidays were also celebrated with large congregations of people coming together and hosting events. I decided that I would take a chance on exploring the neighborhood, starting with showing up to these cultural events.
A couple months later, I found a flyer tacked up on a streetlight pole that Flushing would be hosting a parade for the Chinese Lunar New Year. That evening, my family and I walked down to the most gentrified part of Flushing, Main Street. Immediately, I was greeted with vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold, and saw floats with feathered dragon and lion faces being hoisted up by performers adorned in lively satin pink cultural clothing. They danced and circled around one another, as a collective drumming sound filled the air. A middle-aged lady donning a full length gown and tiara welcomed us and explained the meaning of the animal faces, claiming that it was a way to ward off evil spirits. She taught us that Lunar New Year is celebrated every year as a symbol of community and prosperity. I joined in with spectators who created their own little circle and danced to the mellifluous music coupled with crashing cymbals. It was at that moment that I realized that I couldn’t be happier living in a town that is
so culturally accepting and tight knit. I went home that day with the biggest smile on my face and a full heart.
Through the next few months, I became interested in investigating the various religious edifices that Flushing was home to. As a Hindu, I often visited my local religious temple to pay my respect and devotion to God. However, after learning about Flushing’s cultural diversity and witnessing more events such as Kwanzaa, Diwali, etc…, I was excited to see how it would reflect in the community’s religious aspects. I learned that Flushing is one of the most religiously diverse neighborhoods, with buildings such as the St. Andrew Avellino Roman Catholic Church, the Free Synagogue of Flushing, the Congregation of Georgian Jews, Hindu Temple Society of North America, and the Muslim Center of New York. Visiting a few of these buildings was one of the highlights of my quest to further expand my knowledge and experiences. At the mosque, I learned about the cleansing ritual, called Wudu, that Muslims partake in prior to praying and the fact that all mosques are built to face a certain way (towards Mecca, the most sacred site). At the church, a picturesque building with big stained glass windows and a mosaic-patterned ceiling, I listened to the hymns sung by worshippers and the pastor preaching sermons seemingly applicable to life. Visiting these places made me understand why the neighborhood is considered as a “microcosm of world religions.”
Experiencing the interactions of culture, ethnicity, and religion with people made me have a greater appreciation for my neighborhood. I slowly started to drift away from the conception that the best neighborhood is the most glamorous one. Instead, the most ideal community is one that makes me feel acknowledged, accepted, and comfortable. I felt more at home surrounded by the brick walls of my apartment rather than the glass panes of a skyscraper. To me, being a New Yorker is being a part of something greater than myself. And that to me, is what I call what I call my home, Flushing.