Writing for Social Science
27 Feb 2020
New York City(NYC) is the world’s example of a melting pot because of its residents’ range in diversity. The city is currently home to over 800 languages ranging from all parts of the world, so the previous statement is nowhere near an understatement(World Atlas). Although residents of this city are used to its diverse neighbors, the newest NYC recruits are often times shocked at the city’s complexities, customs, and disappointing realities. The story of Jing Wen and her adaptation to NYC life is no different than new migrants living in this bustling city. Although her time in Guang Xi did not prepare her for the interaction of different people almost hourly, it helped her realize that the world offers her more than what she is used to in her hometown.
As she sits across the mirror watching the cars drive on the road, Jing thinks deeply about her life in Guang Xi, a providence in Southern China, “It was the city with the best memories”. For 17 years, she was accustomed to being with her large family, friends, all in a country she felt at home with. She raved about the safety of her providence; how she and her middle school friends would stay outside until 3 or 4am, simply enjoying themselves. She also talked about her bittersweet memories at her boarding school, and the tireless effort in doing well in school. It is safe to say that Jing’s time in China made up a big portion of her identity, so after leaving her home country in 2015, I wondered how she would adapt in such a fast pace environment.
This reality also hit her once she moved to Flushing, Queens. Although her neighborhood has many Mandarin speakers, she still felt like an anomaly in her new highschool, Flushing International Highschool. With her little knowledge of English, she had trouble navigating the school, and remembers her first day with a bright smile. “So after I entered the right classroom and I was late, like really late, all of the people in the class focused on me.” Jing also felt similarly when she first took public transportation. She felt out of place- not just on the bus that she was taking- but in the city itself for quite some time.
Adjusting to her new life without her extended family and friends was also difficult. While living in Guang Xi, she used to have big dinners with all of her family during Chinese holidays and family gatherings. I’ve noticed a streak of sadness resonating in her face as she is describing the things she could no longer do. Qing Ming is one of those things. Jing explains, “it’s a festival where you commemorate the people who died. My great-great grandmother died, and during Qing Ming, if I was in China, I would come by her house and buy some stuff and put it in the fire so the offering will go to her.” This streak took up her whole face as she sat in her seat staring at the window watching the busy street. However, I quickly noticed that she found several solutions to make up for being oceans away.
“So, during a family party or a holiday, the only thing I can do with my family is to use Facetime and say hi to each other.” Another practical solution was learning how to cook. I asked her about the Chinese food here in NYC, and asked if it was similar to the food back home, “Yes, it’s a little bit but its not traditional Chinese food. Here is the simple/Americanized version.” Since the recipes were lost at sea, Jing decided to learn how to cook the food that reminded her most of her life back in China. And for Qing Ming, her family came up with another solution; “we send money to my family and make them do it in China”. Although these solutions do not transport her to China, they all help her cope with the distance from Guang Xi and also help her still feel Chinese.
This does not mean she did not pick up on any NYC trends during her 5 year stay. In our interview, Jing was wearing a baggy outfit paired with Yeezys 350, whereas I, a born and raised New Yorker, was wearing a sweatsuit with bright blue crocs. It is evident that the trends of NYC and her neighborhood left an influence on her from her sense of style and fashion. Some of the “New York attitude or mindset” also resonated with her. When she first came to NYC, she quickly noticed that everyone usually sticks to themselves something that is completely different in China. “People in my country go out with their friends all the time. They don’t want to seem lonely.” It took awhile for Jing to catch on the “independent” mindset, but she finally did and loves it. With a huge smile, she raved about all of the things she did and enjoyed by herself. These actions, although may seem small to us, helped her learn and appreciate her own company daily. Lastly, she was able to learn that it is not necessary to put up a mask to disguise who you truly are. I’ve noticed as she went on to explain this mask, how she wanted people in her hometown to view her, she looked appreciative in finally being able to take it off. “Even though sometimes I know I really don’t want to do this, but if the other people do it, then I will follow because I don’t want to feel embarrassed being the only one doing something. But here, I feel like people here don’t care about what I do or say because I know everyone here is an individual.”
This individual is what I view Jing as. Today I see a young confident woman who isn’t ashamed of her background, but also embraces the melting pot that she is apart of. She embodies the values and attitudes of New Yorkers just like any other New Yorker, and stories like her are the reason why this city is truly the best in the world.