Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Ich bin ein New Yorker"

by Drew Martin

When Hillary Clinton moved to New York State in 2000 and promptly boasted she was a New Yorker, the island of Manhattan recoiled in horror. It was not a supportive and metaphoric Ich bin ein Berliner kind of statement; she desperately wanted the label.

Since this is a term of great regional complexity, I will attempt to explain it here for an international audience. In the context of this site, it is a matter of language and communication. Additionally, for the art world, it is essential to know when visiting the Big Apple for all the great museums and galleries it has to offer.

Perhaps you have heard that if you live continuously in New York for ten years, you earn the right to call yourself a New Yorker. This is what people from Ohio tell people from Missouri.

Here are some guidelines for the misinformed:

1. New Yorker applies only to a resident of Manhattan. If you are from the other boroughs but currently live in Manhattan, the term still applies. If, however, you live in the other boroughs then technically you are a New Yorker, especially when you pay taxes, but you would not really call yourself a New Yorker. The appropriate thing to say is that you are from the Bronx, Brooklyn, etc. To be from, for example, Staten Island and say you are a New Yorker is entirely misleading (practically as well as culturally). There are even parts of Manhattan that would raise eyebrows in association with the term: Battery Park City, Roosevelt Island and anything north of the George Washington Bridge. Think of it this way...if you make a reservation for a New York Hotel, expecting to be in the Times Square Area or the Village but end up in Queens, you wouldn't be too thrilled and would most likely make the argument that such a place is not really "New York".

2. You can never be a New Yorker to a true New Yorker unless you were born and raised there. This is also true to people in the surrounding areas: Northern New Jersey, Southern Connecticut and the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania who know the city even better than most long-time residents. So, if you moved from Kansas in 2000, you are not, and never will be a New Yorker to such New York savvy people.

3. If you are gay and grew up ostracized in some crummy small town and then move to New York, you are a New Yorker on the first day you wake up in the city. You made it! (This overrides conflicting disqualifications such as being from New Jersey or Florida)

4. Likewise, if you are from a thuggish, oppressive country where you might get killed for creatively expressing yourself, you are a New Yorker as soon as you embrace the very thought of it, which may even be before you arrive. The reason for this (which also applies if you are gay) is simple: you were mistakenly born in the wrong place. Come home to NYC!

5. If you are from New Jersey and grew up telling people you met in other states and countries that you were from the New York area, then you can remain that impostor New Yorker as long you don't tell a soul. Also, if Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi come on the radio make sure you scowl and request to change the station. If you really detest them, you might also naturally qualify under the "born in the wrong place" status.

6. If you are from abroad and spent the majority of your life in New York but still complain about how the bread back home is better and how you cannot get the soap you like, then all bets are off. Go thee to JFK and catch the next flight home (if for any other reason to see how much it has changed).

7. If you think language plays into this, it doesn't. If you don't speak English...who cares?! My Cantonese-only barbers in Chinatown are definitely New Yorkers.

8. If you never set foot on the East Coast, couldn't ride a subway even if your life depended on it and never had a real bagel (which do not exist outside the tri-state area) but got a cartoon published in The New Yorker, are a New Yorker.

9. If you grew up in New Jersey and had a knife held to your stomach while you got mugged in 42nd Street, when it used to be a dangerous place, you are still not a New Yorker but have a bit more street cred and can laugh a little harder when you meet a self-proclaimed New Yorker, who moved to the Big Apple because she (typically) liked the television show Friends.

10. If, however, you were mugged at knife/gun-point, had bedbugs (at least once), currently have cockroaches but don't think it is a big deal, have seen semi-homeless guys killing pigeons for dog meat and live in an area where dogs are constantly defecating on your sidewalk and it doesn't bother you and you would never trade this for anything in the world, then sure...I guess you are a New Yorker.

One might question the fact that I am from New Jersey (although, I was actually born in California) and what would qualify me to make such a preposterous set of rules since I can never be a New Yorker. My only answer is that like the New York skyline, people in New Jersey have the best view.

(The "I heart NY" painting on top of post is by Drew Martin © 2010)