Lounging back in her large red recliner, Patricia smiles as she watches out her window as New Yorkers speed walk past her apartment building on the streets of Sanford Ave. Though she has grown to love NYC, she had a rough start to city life.

Patricia moved to NYC in 1981, at 37 years old from Hollywood, California. When she first arrived, Patricia was blown away by the difference in the atmosphere from California to New York City. She explains “Coming to NY in 1981 from the pristine, shiny, always-new Hollywood was a huge culture shock for me. Everything in Hollywood/Los Angeles was always clean and new. As soon as something even began to look a tiny bit frayed, it was torn down and something new was built in its place. At this point, my eyes were wide open. The whole city seemed to be nothing then but decay, dirt, falling down relics of what once were buildings – generally a city that had fallen on very hard times.”

The dirty neighborhoods made the city very hard to settle into, and the difference in culture only made it more difficult. She explains that she “became extremely depressed and homesick for L.A. and the beautiful warm, happy and carefree city I had grown used to. My son also had a major culture shock. First, he had left behind all his friends and everything he ever knew to come to a strange place with people who talked funny and were continually pale from lack of sun.  He was used to playing sports outside all year round and now he was forced to hibernate inside a good deal of the time. It was a jolting experience for both of us.” When the two finally began to feel they’d grown accustomed to the city life, they realized that they still had a long hard journey ahead of them. After being asked what some of the hardest parts of the transition were, Patricia responded, “One major difficulty was getting used to the cold weather again. We were used to sunny, beautiful days in a place that only rained one or two months out of the year.”

Leaving behind the gorgeous, sunny Los Angeles to find a cold, rainy New York City “welcoming” you with its unopened arms was representative of Patricia’s entire experience moving to this city. Her happy, carefree life in California soon became a sad, difficult one once she moved to NYC. You could almost imagine the rainclouds above her head as she spoke these words, which was heartbreaking to watch, but important to hear.

The dirty neighborhoods and cold weather, however quickly became the least of her problems. Patricia explains that “The hardest thing of all though, was discovering the lack of inclusiveness we experienced in Woodside, Queens, which is where we moved. By that I mean the lack of tolerance for people of color. My son is biracial and he endured tremendous prejudice and intolerance from many of the adults of our neighborhood and some of the children also. It was very painful and that intolerance finally forced us to move.”

Patricia and her son were forced out of “a small apartment on the first floor of a three family house. We had no furniture, no pots or pans, nothing. But that was okay because we got those things bit by bit.” She explains that “Woodside at that time was just like a small country village, a very strongly conservative Roman Catholic/Irish area where people actually used the terms “dirty Commie”, “dirty Red” (another term for a communist) and people routinely used all kinds of racial slurs in daily language.  (She later adds: this is not meant as a negative commentary on any religion or country – it is just a fact of the many of the people living in that area at that time) Being profoundly liberal myself, I felt very out of place and especially worried for my son, as he bore the brunt of the prejudicial behavior of our neighbors.

The racial discrimination, however, didn’t last too long, as Patricia states “the very first time I brought people of color into my apartment, my landlord suddenly found he needed my apartment for some never-heard-of-before daughter and he evicted us. Having no funds to begin a legal battle, we had no choice but to move, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” She understood that the landlord was illegally forcing her out of her home according to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which “protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing. The prohibitions specifically cover discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children,” but lacked the funds to take the man to court.

She explains that she’s glad she was kicked out, however, because “In Woodside I did not feel at all that I was part of a community and I don’t believe my son did either…We did not find a better environment until we moved away from Woodside and moved to Flushing Queens. There the neighborhood was very much like our old California neighborhood. Flushing at that time was a very even mix of Hispanic, Black, East Indian and a smattering of white people.” Reflecting on her years in Flushing, Patricia has come to the conclusion that “Flushing, Queens today is probably the quintessential story of America/The melting pot of New York City. When we moved here, Flushing was a good mix of all ethnicities, pretty much a working-class to middle-class neighborhood and everyone seemed to get along very nicely.”

Since then, much has changed. According to Jefferson Mao’s “On Gentrification in an Unhip Place,” the large majority of Asian immigrants to Flushing “were actually workers and vendors from the 1964 World’s Fair, in near by Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, who decided to stay after the fair was over.” Looking back, Patricia is able to recall the racial and ethnic changes that have occurred in her neighborhood as time progressed. She comments “As the years have gone by, Flushing has become a huge Asian community, predominantly Chinese. The Main Street area where I still live has become gentrified. Flushing has become a carpet of high-rise luxury million dollar condominium buildings. The penthouses at Skyview Parc up the street from me went for $2.5 million the last time I looked.” Mao comments on this very complex, describing it as a “448-unit condominium with tennis courts, swimming pools, a bamboo-lined rooftop garden and two-bedroom apartments that go for upward of $1 million [as of 2013].”

After being asked how the changes in Flushing make her feel, Patricia replied “I don’t know whether this is a sad commentary or a good commentary but I believe that Flushing represents the changes happening in almost every major city. The old becomes new again. What was once depressed now has become the “in” thing, favored by all the young up-and-coming movers and shakers, often at the expense of those who previously occupied the area for years and years and years.”

Surprisingly, despite facing such difficult conditions upon moving from California to NYC, Patricia stayed optimistic, and continues to radiate positivity from her Flushing apartment to this day. Today, at 73 years old, Patricia lives in her same Flushing apartment. She has written a memoir of her life entitled “No Longer Lost,” whichis published in the Library of Congress, and she runs several online blogs ranging from cooking recipes to life stories, which she shares with people around the globe.

She offers the following encouragement to people moving to New York City for the first time:

“Don’t be discouraged, press on. I think the best way to prove this point is to tell you that after our initial jolt of change, depression, enduring a sub-zero winter, getting used to the subway and all the other facets of city life, something happened: One morning in the Spring I opened my front door and walked out on the sidewalk to be met with a huge display of tiny rosebuds growing on a hedge by my front door. They were not there the day before. As I walked down the street to the subway I realized that the trees were full of very green, small leaves. All around me, overnight,LIFE had happened! Buds of flowers had appeared from nowhere. Spring had sprung and life had begun anew after a freezing cold winter. That one morning changed my whole outlook. All of a sudden I got my happiness back! So I would say to any newcomer that hopefully you had a good first experience, but if not – just keep going because eventually you will find your New York Stride!”

Patricia’s switch in perspective after witnessing the rapid change from winter to spring depicts a lot of immigrant’s experiences when moving to a new place, especially NYC. While your journey may begin tough, and you find it hard to notice anything but the negatives about moving someplace new, you’ll soon discover the little beauties about your new home.     

After spending the past 37 years in New York City, Patricia has developed a close connection with her surroundings, and constantly brags about the beauty of NYC. She declares “My New York is Alive, is wonderful, is changing every minute of every day.  My New York is a place where you can see the world’s greatest art from MOMA to the most beautiful street graffiti; hear the world’s greatest music from the Metropolitan Opera to fledgling musical geniuses playing for spare change down in the subway; My New York is a place where you can dine in any of a plethora of 5 star restaurants or eat at any of probably thousands of hash joints and street stands.  My New York is a place where any time of the day or night you can find someone to talk to, you can make a new friend, you can go see a movie, you can get any kind of food that you want no matter what ethnicity you are, you can hop a bus, a train or a plane or even a ship and go wherever you want to go at a moment’s notice. My New York is a place where a person who is willing to work hard can SUCCEED!

Works Cited:

  1. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Fair Housing-It’s Your Right .”HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp
  2. Mao, Jefferson. “On Gentrification in an Unhip Place.” Next City: Inspiring Better Cities, 25 Mar. 2013,nextcity.org/daily/entry/letter-from-flushing-on-gentrification-in-an-unhip-place.