Making It in New York City A Macaulay @ Hunter "Peopling of New York" Seminar Project: Spring 2013

Making It in New York City
Perceptions vs. Realities: Making it in NYC

Decades ago, Frank Sinatra famously sang of New York City, saying “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere…” In his recent hit song, “Empire State of Mind,” Jay-Z declared himself “the new Sinatra,” and, together with Alicia Keys, they proclaim that the city is “the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, ” where “…there’s nothin’ you can’t do.” This begs the question, what does it really take to make it in New York City? Is New York truly the city of opportunity that Sinatra portrays, or is it more of the competitive concrete jungle that Jay-Z and Keys illustrate?

Five groups of students explored the question of “making it” in this complex city. Do the realities measure up to the glowing perceptions of New York? Is it true that “there’s nothing you can’t do,” as Keys tells us? What if you hand out newspapers every weekday morning outside of subway stations? Do people realize that you, too, have what Keys calls “a pocketful of dreams” in her solo rendition of “Empire State of Mind”? And if you are homeless, do “these streets make you feel brand new”?  One student group interviewed a group of people who have been—or still are—homeless. These student-researchers reveal the diverse realities contained in their stories.

Frank Sinatra told us that “it’s up to you, New York, New York”. There are lots of New Yorkers who, for a variety of reasons, have to depend on the kindness of their fellow New Yorkers. At one end of the spectrum, a group of students explored New Yorkers’ (often unsympathetic) attitudes toward the solicitors they encounter on the subway. And at the other end, another group visited the Chinese Literacy Project. Here they present a report-back on the volunteer efforts of native English speakers who help Chinese immigrants learn to read and write in English.

And what of Jay-Z, welcoming us to the melting pot but then charging that “for foreigners, it ain’t fair: they act like they forgot how to act”? Is appreciation of diversity real, or just an ideal? A group of students examined the perceptions and realities of diversity here at Hunter.

After you read these various accounts of the real and the ideal in NYC, will you still want to heed Keys, and “put your lighters in the air [and] say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’?


Featured Image credit: “‘Jazzmaster’…” by Christopher Schoenbohm on Flickr

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