November 4, 2012, Sunday, 308


From The Peopling of New York City


About ME

My full name is Aleksandra but very few people actually call me that. I am widely known as Sasha, a name I've been called since birth and one that is unusually common for both genders in the Russian culture.
I enjoy speaking, traveling, and observing. I've always insisted on taking the window seat, at any age on any form of transportation. People, in general, have always fascinated me and I've taken a habit of observing them (in an entirely un-stalkerish manner, of course) in any setting I may find myself in. Interacting with people is also very enjoyable for me. I've declared myself as a speech major for this same reason. I know that 20, 30, even 60 years from now I'll still take just as much pleasure in speaking with and learning the stories of others.
In addition, I have the habits of any of my peers. Shopping has become a bit of therapeutic outlet for me and I LOVE venturing around Manhattan's stores. While I watch virtually no TV and attempt to refrain from immersing myself in pop culture, I do love music, specifically that of the indie variety.

Immigration Movie Clip: Borat
Though the movie itself inspires a variety of opinions from viewers, I believe the journey of Borat in the United States in a fairly accurate description of the struggle many immigrants face when arriving in this country. These immigrants are not aware that such amenities like toilet paper, running water, and public transportation are readily available to us, when they have lived their entire lives without such luxuries. There are many cultural barriers that need to be overcome, especially the stereotypes that people get used to living with, whether they are based on their own cultures or on ours. It is important to note that while Americans are often aware of other cultures and their extremities, due to the level of education in our country, citizens of other parts of the world may not have had enough technological or cultural advancement to be aware of the differences existing in our world. Borat, though a caricature himself, provides a clear depiction of the culture shock and confusion that immigrants often have to overcome.

From There To Here

Though many immigrants sought refuge in the United States from unstable governments, religious prosecution, or failing economies, my family was never faced with any of those problems. I was born in Kiev, Ukraine in a family whose members had grown up in Odessa, Kharkov, and Dnepropetrovsk - some of the major Ukrainian cities. My family was well off, or as much as it could have been in a crumbling communist state. My parents and grandparents owned property and cars, had retirement funds, and were well-established in their society. My parents were engineers, my father having defended his dissertation, written books, articles, and speeches and taught organic chemistry. My grandfather was a distinguished and recognized military official, who had commanded his own battalion in WWII at the age of 18. My family was secure and no one had intentions of leaving the country.
In 1986 the Chernobyl catastrophe occurred, sending out massive waves of radiation for thousands of miles. At the time, people weren't aware of the devastating toll such a disaster can take on the human organism, but my family learned of this 8 years later when I started getting sick. The diagnosis was less than favorable and my family was told that it would only worsen for me if we stayed in the country longer. About 3 months later my parents, grandparents, and I boarded the plane for New York, our lives packed up, friends and family left behind, the future entirely unknown. We arrived in the company of my grandfather's younger brother and his family, whom we lived with for about a month until my grandparents moved into their own apartment in Bensonhurst and my parents and I moved a few blocks away. While we lived peacefully, it was still a struggle. Though we had many relatives in America, very few of them offered help, or even association, to us. My father had to become a driver for a local Car Service (a business that many Soviet immigrant men often are forced to enter) in order to sustain us and worked late at night in some of the worst neighborhoods in New York. My mother took programming classes in the daytime for several years, but after the programmers went out of demand, she was left to go back to school AGAIN and start training all over as an electrical engineer. I grew up in the company of my grandparents, who ended up spending the most time with me.

An Ideal Community

While perfection is a rarity, if not an impossibility, one may still wonder about how an idealistic state might someday exist. An “ideal community” can contain a variety of crucial elements. A sense of union amongst residents is surely considered a staple of any neighborhood. The people, regardless of their background, must be able to transcend racial and language barriers in order to maintain communal harmony. An ideal community simply cannot exist while there is tension or antagonism within itself. Its inhabitants must be able to willingly maintain peaceful relations with one another, because if anger is present there is only a limited amount of time before it stops being suppressed.

Another important factor for stability is a well-established financial ground. Any community must have stores, shops, and workers that can offer a variety of goods and services to its members as well as to tourists. An ideal community would be open, welcoming and be able to successfully attract and embrace any visitors. In the economic sense, it would also be able to establish attraction within, and thus generate funds for its own betterment. Economic instability creates a vicious cycle, one that often takes generations to break.

Clearly, poverty would be eliminated and unemployment would be a thing of the past. In a dystopia, a lack of jobs and business would only create poor living conditions and allow for the formation of inadequate housing for already impoverished residents. This would never be the case in an ideal community. People would be able to afford quality housing where they would reside comfortably amongst their families and under very good conditions. An ideal community is one in which all of its members feel safe. People would feel at ease while walking alone to the store, letting their children go to and from school by themselves, even traveling after dark. Crime would be virtually nonexistent and the authorities would hold firm control of the neighborhood.

Census Information for Bensonhurst

Census Tracts: Brooklyn 268 Demographic Socio-Economic Age Income in 1999 Labor Education Housing Characteristics Housing Costs

Demographic Profile Tract(s) Bronx Brooklyn Manhattan Queens Staten I. New York City Total Population 4,017 2,465,326 8,008,278

    Single Race, Nonhispanic:       
         White 3,063 854,532 2,801,267 
         Black / African American 12 848,583 1,962,154 
         American Indian and Alaska Native 7 4,494 17,321 
         Asian 543 184,291 780,229 
         Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander 0 803 2,829 
         Some other Race 9 16,057 58,775 
    Two or More Races, Nonhispanic 68 68,688 225,149 
    Hispanic Origin (of any race) 315 487,878 2,160,554 
    Single Race, Nonhispanic: (by percentage)       
         White 76.3% 34.7% 35.0% 
         Black / African American 0.3% 34.4% 24.5% 
         American Indian and Alaska Native 0.2% 0.2% 0.2% 
         Asian 13.5% 7.5% 9.7% 
         Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander 0% 0% 0.0% 
         Some other Race 0.2% 0.7% 0.7% 
    Two or More Races, Nonhispanic 1.7% 2.8% 2.8% 
    Hispanic Origin (of any race) 7.8% 19.8% 27.0% 

Total Population 4,017 2,465,326 8,008,278

    In Households 4,010 2,426,027 7,825,848 
         In Family Households 3,526 2,059,944 6,385,685 
                   As percent of pop. in households 87.9% 84.9% 81.6% 
              Householder 1,077 584,120 1,853,223 
              Spouse 811 339,957 1,124,305 
              Own child under 18 years 773 561,641 1,642,612 
              Other Relatives 821 506,783 1,536,428 
              Nonrelatives 44 67,443 229,117 
         In nonfamily households 484 366,083 1,440,163 
              Householder 419 296,607 1,168,365 
                   65 years and over living alone 185 86,350 299,920 
                        As percent of pop. in households 4.6% 3.6% 3.8% 
              Nonrelatives 65 69,476 271,798 
    In Group Quarters 7 39,299 182,430 

Total Households 1,496 880,727 3,021,588

    Family Households 1,077 584,120 1,853,233 
         Married-Couple Family 811 339,957 1,124,305 
              w/ related children under 18 years 387 179,449 566,421 
         Female Householder, no husband present 196 195,988 576,354 
              As a percentage of total households 13.1% 22.3% 19.1% 
              w/ related children under 18 years 94 130,917 377,304 
         Male Householder, no wife present 70 48,175 152,564 
              w/ related children under 18 years 20 21,822 68,450 
    Nonfamily Households 419 296,607 1,168,365 
         As a percentage of total households 28% 33.7% 38.7% 
    Households w/ persons 65 years and over 494 215,080 712,581 
         As a percentage of total households 33% 24.4% 23.6% 


Source: 2000 Census Summary File 1 Population Division - New York City Department of City Planning

Benson ave.JPG

21st ave.JPG

Midterm and Final Questions

1. From Berger: Describe, discuss and give examples of two different neighborhoods. Compare and contrast them. While reading Joe Berger’s book The World in a City, I found two chapters particularly interesting. The first one was about the melting pot in Ditmas Park and the second one was about the fur-wearing, ballroom-dancing Russians of Brighton Beach. My reactions while reading the chapters were very different. I was amazed to learn about a neighborhood, so socially successful, and yet so ethnically varied especially since I had heard very little about Ditmas Park before. This was a place with quality, affordable housing, educated residents, quiet streets, peace and even unity amongst residents. Where in Brooklyn could one even dream of going to an outdoor play on a neighbor’s front porch or a “progressive dinner” during the holidays with all the other inhabitants? Still, the neighborhood seems to blooming, despite its old-fashioned value system. There are bustling restaurants, shops, and coffee houses, all of which do a good job of keeping up with the growing trends and hipster’s lifestyles. Berger’s description of it really seemed to echo, as he had mentioned, a “utopia.” At the same time, I wasn’t at all amazed as I read the description of Brighton Beach. Growing up in the Russian community, I am very familiar with the expectations. I’ve taken the ballroom dancing classes for years (though I stopped before high school) and my mother does own a long, fur coat that she actively dons in the winter months. Though my family does put away money, they are not at all reluctant to abide by the “We are not that rich to buy cheap things” mantra and do tend to indulge in life’s pleasures more often than not. It is much easier to understand this anti-thrift mentality when you are the child of immigrants who had saved their last pennies for years, working minimum wage jobs and have at last managed to land a career where they can afford to vacation in the Caribbean once a year. It is also true that Russian parents put a great deal of pressure into making sure their children are more successful in America than they are. They expect that they will be taken care of once they reach old age, just like we were as they were struggling to provide for us those first few years. Ditmas Park proves to be a great illustration of a settled community where people who are already firmly established in the country and in their lives can intermingle freely. Brighton Beach, on the other hand, is a place where immigrants can be around former comrades without abandoning old customs and still being exposed to an entirely new culture.

2. From Glazer and Moynihan: Pick one group and describe its assimilation process. Did this group really melt into the pot? Describe, discuss and give examples. The first Jews came to New York City in 1654. These were the Sephardic Jews that were escaping religious persecution from Spain and Portugal, among with some Dutch and Brazilians. They spoke mostly Portuguese. By the 1880’s most of New York’s Jews were comprised of those from Germany and Eastern Europe, the descendants of those who were orthodox or socialist Yiddish speaking. These groups didn’t always get along. In 1924, there were nearly 2 million Jews in New York. However, there were also waves of anti-Semitism that echoed through the country during that time, which forced the Yiddish and German Jews to settle their differences and unite for the sake of survival. In the early 20th century, the American Jewish Committee was formed by several wealthy people in order to defend the interests of mostly Eastern European Jews. However, most Jews do stem from this Yiddish-speaking sect and even some of the most agnostic Jews still claim Judaism if asked what their religious background is. I know, because I am one of these people. Jews are able to unite due to the commonality of their background: the events of persecution and anti-Semitism that have shaped Jewish character, the collectivity of Zionism and Socialism that have allowed them to spread worldwide movements and allow a group that is dispersed across the globe to join at moment’s notice in perfect unified harmony. Jews also live by the idea of “a common fate.” They are aware that they belong to a group that unites them by “birth and tradition” and not by religious practices or teachings. I feel the Jews of New York really did melt into the pot. From the “oi vey!” to the bagels with cream cheese to the synagogues and yeshivas, they have become highly characteristic of the vision of New York City we are all acquainted with today.

3. From Foner: Compare the old and new immigrants. Which have been more successful? Describe, discuss and give examples. When many of the old immigrants arrived in America in the early 20th century, only a tiny portion of them actually had an education (1.3% of Jews and less than 1% of Italians). Nowadays, however there is “much more occupational and educational variety” that exists among the incoming immigrants. In fact, Italians now have an “extraordinarily high” literacy rate and people are arriving with much more professional training. There now exists “an intensifying demand for information” with all the competition the United States is undergoing on the international commercial markets for broadcasting, newspaper, and print service. Due to this growing need, the working field has shifted from the “factory floor” to the “service sector.” When the old immigrants were arriving at the turn of the century, the economy was morphing from mercantile to a modern industry. With the “expanding clothing industry and construction boom,” availability of low wage factory work was vast and immigrants had little to no difficulty finding a job. Now, with the economy becoming post-industrial, college degrees are required much more than muscle and manpower. Services are becoming higher in demand than goods. Housing has also improved over the years. Earlier, immigrants inevitably ended up living in crowded lower Manhattan tenements with no heating, plumbing, or hot water. Now, immigrants are able to devote a very limited amount of time to living in the city and are able to bypass ghettos and slum housing on their way to the suburbs. Lines between social classes have shifted greatly over the years as well. Unlike now, with the influx being mainly of people of color, most immigrants at the turn of the century were white. Perhaps it was due to this that groups like Jews and Italians were seen as belonging to different races. With all this in mind, it fair to assume that the immigrants who arrive in America nowadays are faced with simpler and more manageable conditions than those who arrived a century ago.
4. From class notes: Describe, discuss and give examples of Assimilationism, Cultural Pluralism, and Multiculturalism. Which is most common today? When answering such a question, it is important to realize what area is being examined under its terms. If it is such a diverse location, like the one we have grown up in, then the results for New York City would be much different from the ones even for Florida. In New York, any of these three is as common as the others. I know of an immigrant family from Ukraine that arrived here 4 years ago. The husband runs an auto business with his brother, the wife works in Manhattan and studies to be a speech pathologist even though she still has her Russian accent. While they both have typical Soviet names, they have named their son (who was born here just a few months after they emigrated) Mitchell. They shop at the same supermarkets as any New Yorkers and wear exclusively American clothing brands like Gap and American Eagle. It can be said they are embodying assimilationism. There are also families like my boyfriend’s that are culturally pluralistic. His parents came from Armenia when they were teenagers. His mother received her degree from NYU and his father began running a successful business. They made their way up the social ladder and had 2 children, whom they gave American names (though they have some Armenian origin). At home, they emphasized traditional values and taught the children Armenian, which they use to communicate with grandparents and elders. Family gatherings are frequent and of great importance and most relatives (even though they all speak fluent English) are referred to by their Armenian titles (rather than aunt/uncle so-and-so). I consider my own family to be more multiculturalistic than anything else. If there is one thing my family has tried to do consistently since we’ve arrived in the US, it’s preserve our culture. We are Russian/Ukrainian and Jewish. At home, English is never spoken, mostly because it is more or less understood by my mother and only fluently spoken by myself. I’ve only recently stopped going to my Russian tutor, whom I saw for 2 hours, once a week, every week (except the summer) for 9 years. My family made sure I could read, write, maintain proper grammar, recite poetry, identify artists and painters, all from the Russian culture. Their biggest fear was that I “wouldn’t be able to communicate with them anymore.” So they made sure I forgot nothing and learned nearly everything. They made sure my friends were all children of Russian/Jewish immigrants and even slightly discouraged me from interacting with those of other backgrounds because “they do not share our customs and therefore do not understand us.” I went upstate every summer to a bungalow colony with other Russian families and their children. When I got older, I started working a local Jewish-oriented community center, where roughly 80% of the children I worked with had been born to Soviet immigrants. The staff itself, comprised of over 200 people, had maybe 4 or 5 non-Russian speaking people at most. I suppose within such a community, multiculturalism was definitely the most embraced, but in terms of commonality? I’d have to say for New York City, with all its Colombian coffee shops run by Arabs, Greek diners run by Asians, and kosher supermarkets run by Mexicans, cultural pluralism is seen at its best.

The Self and Community in the City: What are the attractions for invasion and succession to the Lefferts Manor?

The Lefferts Manor is located in what Professor Pangloss has dubbed “the best of all possible urban worlds,” meaning that the area in which it is located boasts some of the bests attractions that any neighborhood could only hope for. Surrounding the Lefferts Manor are the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, which provide tranquil gardens for peaceful meditation or just decorated walkways for afternoon strolls. People are able to use such places to retreat from the noise and bustle of city life and enjoy simplicity in its natural, blooming state. The Brooklyn Zoo invites children from all over the city to the neighborhood, along with their parents, who can find appeal in it. They can visit the Brooklyn Museum, where numerous famous and world-renown artists hold exhibitions annually. There is also the Grand Army Plaza with its giant triumphal arch, where the central Brooklyn Public Library is located, providing an array of resources to research and learn about. People would have to travel to the Central Public Library for such materials but here it is readily available to the residents of the Manor. In addition, there is Prospect Park, the central park of Brooklyn, providing numerous attractions year-round. There is ice-skating in the wintertime, horseback riding and boating in the spring and fall, and concerts and operas for public entertainment in the summer. This plethora of recreational activities allow residents to stay amused and immerse themselves in the community and its events, while maintaining relations with their neighbors (who are engaging in the same activities). There is also the pride of Brooklyn, Ebbets Field, where the world-famous Brooklyn Dodgers used to play. Not only is this a landmark and a sports complex that other teams can use or just visit for sight-seeing, this stadium has surprisingly not had an adverse effect on the neighborhood. In fact, it has brought business and publicity to the Lefferts manor, by introducing nightclubs and restaurants that “bolstered the commercial vitality of the streets.” In other words, the addition of fine dining to the residential streets of Lefferts Manor have brought in “hip” individuals that have contributed to making the neighborhood and “in” place and added to its allure. For residents, the brownstone buildings have proved to be a solid investment. While they are small and relatively affordable for a middle class buyer, they are also a status symbol (for those seeking to achieve a status, that is). They are built from the finest materials to be sturdy and long-lasting and, at the same time, provide residents with creative freedom, by allowing enough room within for them to be renovated as the buyer pleases. The citizens themselves serve as attractions, since many of them are loyal residents that have stayed in the neighborhood for years and have invested themselves in maintaining its respectability. These are the people who did not leave the area when restaurants and shops were opening and provided the moral integrity that the Lefferts Manor has become representative of throughout the years.