I’ve always been proud of living in New York City. When I turned 14, I remember excitedly telling anyone who would listen that I’ve officially lived half of my life in NYC, and that I could officially call NYC my home, because from that point on, I would’ve spent the majority of my life in it.
For me, NYC represented a kind of Eden—that dream of limitless opportunity and wealth that every immigrant family yearns for. From as young as I remember, all I’ve ever wanted to do was come to the US, to New York City, NY, the home of the Empire State Building, to live with my mom, and to start my real life.
When I realized I wasn’t straight (I use the term “pansexual” now), I also realized that I would never have to face the discrimination that other non-straight people face around the world, because I lived in New York City, the city where everyone lived together, in peace. Growing older, and hearing about other Asian-Americans who experienced bullying in their lives, I realized that I never had that pivotal moment where I realized I was different. I’m privileged to be able to say that I’ve never felt discriminated against in school or work because of my gender. And anything that I’ve wanted, I’ve always felt that I had a fair chance at getting. All of this came together to prove to me what a wonderful place New York City was—more than the architecture, more than the money, or the city-life, or the convenience of having anything you want, at your fingertips—but the kind of place where anyone can be true to themselves, without fear of violent retaliation. And I realize that was naïve, but I was a child. I was ready to take my experiences as representative of everyone’s experiences.
Then Eric Garner was choked to death (http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Eric-Garner-Death-Chokehold-Investigation-272043511.html ). Then an imam was shot in Queens, the borough where I’ve lived all my life (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/drive-by-shooter-queens-gravely-injures-men-article-1.2749901 ). Then Chelsea exploded (http://abc7ny.com/news/bombing-suspect-ahmad-khan-rahami-captured-in-linden/1517053/ ). And if you plot those events, those acts of hate against people who are different from us, it’s rapidly approaching the heart of the city, from Staten Island to Queens to Manhattan, incredibly quickly, incredibly violently, and incredibly horrifyingly.
For the longest time, I was without words. This is my city, the city I know best above all other cities, and I don’t know it anymore. It’s full of a violent energy that I don’t recognize anymore. It breaks me down, to see this happening to the place I love the most in the world. And for a long time, I didn’t know how to react to these events. I didn’t write about them. I didn’t talk about them. I didn’t force myself to confront myself about them.
But this is me, writing, talking, confronting this—this new New York City, this new place where violence happens again and again. And I’m here to say, I haven’t lost hope. I haven’t given up.
Because the same things that made me love New York City—the diverse people, the friends I’ve made, the languages and countries and religions I encounter on a regular basis, that hasn’t changed. That will never change. And we can still go back to what we were. We can still be a place of tolerance, of friendships, of laughter, of happiness.