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Who Is A New Yorker?

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 21, 2022 19:45

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I'm a lifelong resident of New York City. If you lived in NYC for a few years and then you left, you're not a New Yorker. Is that difficult to understand?

The legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong lived in Corona, Queens, for many years. The house he lived in, in a largely residential section of New York City, is now a small and charming museum. I've visited it a few times and enjoyed it.

But which city is Armstrong most closely associated with? His birthplace, New Orleans. Yes, there are places in NYC named for Satchmo: a park, a school, and a few other spots. But he was a son of The Big Easy, not The Big Apple.

Why am I building up this kind of hometown equivalency? Because I came across a piffling discussion on Facebook. It was in response to an advertisement that stated, "Don't Worry, Even If You Leave New York, You'll Always Be a New Yorker." It's copy for a moving company, and I consider it rubbish. 

But several eager people wrote in agreement and apparently think that even though they only lived for a few years in NYC, they can consider themselves to be New Yorkers. I say NO.

This bothers me, and I've encountered this kind of argument many times: there are too many people who want to take on the mantle of True New Yorker, even though they came to NYC when they were adults and only spent a few years here. 

This is about identity, and of course, it can be a touchy subject. Why are people so eager to consider themselves New Yorkers and act like they know so much about this city when it is really their adopted city? And when I call them out on it, why are they so stung?

I lived through a lot of horrible events and times in NYC. I lived through the financial woes of the 1970s when many families decamped for the suburbs. My parents stayed, and they showed their loyalty and concern for NYC. 

On the other hand, I know people who left NYC after high school and haven't returned or only visited briefly a few times, yet they feel that they can gripe about things that have changed in the city. They'll say that NYC will never be as good as it was when THEY lived here. But they left, most of the time by choice, and what skin do they have in the game?

I remember also when for many years, people would roll their eyes or mock those of us who hailed from and lived in Brooklyn. But now, newcomers wear their Brooklyn residence as a badge of pride. While that is a positive, I think they don't have the depth of knowing Brooklyn when it was belittled. 

I get that it's probably much cooler and more exciting to say that you're a New Yorker than, say, a Duluthian. (Is that how you say it?) NYC is one of the true social, cultural, financial, and creative capitals of the world. But who can really claim to be True New Yorker? 

Someone like me, who stayed, worked, lived, cheered, cried, and more.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 21, 2022 19:45

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