The New York Times has a feature on the web today, in which they interviewed numerous 17-year-olds to see what their lives are like. It doesn’t take long to check out as each of the teenagers only has a few paragraphs, but I think it’s an excellent display of the diversity of life in New York City. To me, it’s when one looks at this, at these teenagers and how incredibly different their lives and future prospects are even at the young age of 17, that one should understand that we must do all we can to fight for equality and equal opportunity. The difference between the oral histories is vast, and really gives one a sense of the great range of poverty and wealth that one can find in this one city, in New York City.
Take, for example, the oral history of Jason Monegro, a hard working kid from the west Bronx who says:
Work at the time was a duty. I had to work, because if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be food on the plate.
His story reminds me of some of the members of my husband’s family, who are hard-working Latinos who struggle to pay the bills and provide food and shelter for their family.
On the other side, there is the story of Maria D’Onofrio, who lives on Staten Island where life is more like upper middle class suburbia than one might expect in New York City. In her oral history, she talks of her Sweet 16 birthday party:
You don’t have to be popular to have a Sweet 16. Most people at my school have them, but not everyone has big ones. It depends on the person. Mine was at the Old Bermuda Inn. The place was booked over a year in advance. There were, like, 150, 160 people — a lot of family there that I didn’t even know.
Then there is the story of a girl, Zy-Tasia Gaines, from Queens who is a lesbian, and what life is like for her living in New York City. When I was in high school, I participated in the Gay-Straight Alliance, and we tried to help create an accepting atmosphere for people of every sexual orientation. As I read her story, I can’t help but feel that she’s lucky to live here in NYC, where there is such a thriving LGBT community available for her to come into her own in, and yet still I’m struck by the crazy amount of prejudice that still exists today over homosexuality. She shares:
A lot of my friends stopped talking to me, and a lot of them still don’t talk to me. My girlfriend in Chicago, I’m her first girlfriend. So when we came out in school, as a couple, everybody said: “See what you did to her? Now you’re going to bring two people down to hell.” I’m like, “O.K.” And her parents really made me feel bad. They were like: “You’re ruining our family. She was fine before she met you.”
I think NYC really is an amazing city, and I’m glad so many different types of people call it home. I only wish people all across America could be so used to interacting daily with people of all these different types – from different socioeconomic strata, from different countries, from different family backgrounds. People need to accept other people as they are, and realize that many of the things that make us who we are are things that are out of our own control anyways; what matters is how we deal with them. So many Americans deal with difference by thinking it’s the other person’s fault that they are different, and it’s a shame.