Living in the United States Of America, in New York City, is like living in several different countries, without actually leaving this one. Whether it is to indulge in a bite to eat from some part of the world, or it is to buy a souvenir from another, whether it is conversing in a different language or understanding the biodiversity of another country, I get a glimpse into lives of people from different parts of the world, right here.
Several years ago, when I first visited New York City, while walking on the city’s streets, I was amazed at the unique outfits people wore and all the different languages that I overheard. What I assumed to be just a nuance of being in a tourist driven neighborhood, turned out to be the norm here.
When I moved here, the first thing I noticed and was happy to report to my family in India, was the easy availability of Indian groceries. Not just that, the ‘steel vessels,’ we are accustomed to eating out of were also easily available. Sari boutiques and emporiums selling Indian wedding jewelry, were on the same streets that were known for the diverse Indian restaurants.
I got my first taste of Korean culture while eating at the vegan restaurant, Hangawi. Seeing Koreans eat there, validated my theory that a restaurant is good if your fellow diners are people of the same ethnicity. I have, since then met and made friends with Koreans and learnt “an-nyong-has-se-yo,” for hello and “kam-sa-ham-ni-da,” for Thank you. From our conversations about family, traditions, marriage and expectations, I gathered that, I as an India, share many cultural similarities with my Korean friend. Who would have thought!?
It tickles me when ‘Asians’ tell me that just by looking at another Asian, they cannot tell what their country of origin might be. I had the chance to get to know a girl from China, who easily told me how she was the third born in her family, and luckily was not her family’s most expensive child, going by China’s one child rule! She would laugh when I talked about Bok Choy, which apparently is a completely different vegetable to her, than it is in America. China Town, in so many cities across the country is where I go to get all things Chinese, including their competently priced massage parlors.
Japanese culture in it’s food – sushi and broth is on every block. Cherry Blossoms were a gift to the USA from Japan, 1912 and are celebrate every spring. Once I got to see a couple of women dressed in Kimonos out at a the Japanese garden in Brooklyn.
I was introduced to Sri Lankan culture from a neighbor who had an accent, I could not pin to be from any part of India. I got to know hear first hand, the life she led during the war and how they grew up in Colombo and went to school, despite the fear around the corner. Thanks to her, a delicious coconut Kale salad is a frequent on my dinner table!
Starting with saying the food names right, I got my first peek into Malaysian life when I met Lynn from the Madhatters. As always getting to know about the life people live elsewhere is always interesting, and apparently, wandering about the malls of Kuala Lampur is possibly the most popular way to spend a weekend in that capital city. From other Malays, I have gotten to know that there is an intricate intermingling between the Chinese and Muslims there.
It should not come as any surprise that food is my first exposure to a culture and so it was even with the Mediterranean countries. I dream of going to Morocco to see their colorful souks and Turkey to eat their breads. I was lucky to meet someone from Lebanon who told me belly dancing was a wonderful tradition there. I’ve been fortunate to meet some older Egyptian woman who’ve told me stories about growing up in Egypt, servants they had and how because of political reasons they cannot go back to the country of their birth.
I know a little about Mexican culture – the food is one of my favorite meals to go out for. I get spoken in Spanish and am unable to respond, more than I can remember. Just today, my five year old niece was talking to me about Day Of The Dead, assuming it was a holiday I knew everything about!
Every time I go to the Botanical Gardens or read about the zoos across the city and around the country, I get to see the diversity in flora and fauna from around the world. The museums and theaters, bring art and music from far of lands, right here to my doorstep.
Living in the United States, I am made aware of cultures, religions, lifestyles and peculiarities of people that I might never have know! I have learned to appreciate certain aspects and be tolerant to certain peculiar quirks of people from around the world. I have grown to love traditions from lands I never knew existed, and have grown accustomed to the celebration of international holidays, here in America.
I could attribute this exposure to moving across the world, to my growing up or simply to being observant. But I know it is more than that. It is being able to live in a place that allows and treasures this diversity, something I hope never changes! I credit New York City, I credit America.
Today, as the world celebrates the coming of 2018, I resolve to continue to learn from and cherish this diversity. I resolve to celebrate America.