I love raising my kids in New York City because they learn firsthand not to fear people different from themselves.
New York City is the place where the 24-hour deli across the street from us is owned by a wonderful Yemeni man, Alex, and staffed by his nephew Mo and other young gentlemen who greet me warmly as I stumble in early to get emergency milk and eggs and cereal for my kids’ breakfast. My kids stop in for their Cheetos and Doritos. We are grateful for the convenience and for their smiling, friendly faces.
New York City is the place where my Caribbean babysitter, Jackie, taught me so much about staying calm and relaxed with the kids, about how they had the resilience to be a bit independent instead of being watched like hawks. She gathered together with other babysitters and their charges and built a support network, which I admired greatly.
New York City is the place where I’ve made the best of friendships with people from Lebanon and Australia and Korea and Mexico and England and France and Italy and Greece and Spain and Pakistan and from all over the United States. I have learned so much about foreign foods and culture from these friends, about how I like people from anywhere.
New York City is the place where my older son is the minority as a half-Jewish white male in a high school primarily populated with Asians, many from China, who move to the country to give their children a top American education. Parents who speak Mandarin and English both are much sought after as volunteer translators. The benefit, held in Chinatown, features delicious traditional Chinese food.
New York City is the place where I discovered a band called the Brooklyn Gypsies, made up of musicians from Spain and Italy and New Jersey and Massachusetts and Japan. Listening to them at Nublu, a bar in the East Village owned by a Swedish-Turkish man, I made friends with a group of guys from a Moroccan gnawa band, a fascinating mix of Muslim gentlemen who perform their trance music often at Barbes, near my house.
I am not afraid of people because of their race, religion, or skin color. My children are not afraid either. And since we have so many positive associations with people from so many places, it makes traveling abroad so much more exciting. A few years ago, we visited a friend living in Guatemala and the boys got into a boat with a local Mayan fisherman who spoke no English.
“How do you say ‘This is fun’ in Spanish?” my older son yelled across Lake Atitlan to me, in my own crude wooden boat, as I fished with a string. There was no fear there, only joy and curiosity. Same on other trips, including last summer’s home exchanges with families in Switzerland and Italy where they entrusted us with their homes and cars and pets and we entrusted them with ours.
It is easy to be scared of things you don’t know, of people whose “kind” you have seen or heard vilified in the news and in movies and on television. It is easy to let others tell you about people rather than get to know them yourself. But there is no substitution for building friendships with people, and understanding that you are more similar than different, and that you are able to bond over the same issues that you face in your lives, with your families.
Right now I feel grateful that I have been able to offer my kids a strong antidote to fear and animosity toward others: feelings of love, offered firsthand, from people who may look or speak differently, whose customs might differ, but whose hearts we know beat with the same regularity as our own.
And we learned it all right here in Brooklyn.