Growing Up New York
Written by: Yaddy Valerio
Growing up New York is a gift and a curse. When I go to other states or places that are much slower than New York, I still have the New York mentally. Always rushing.
I am a first-generation American. My parents migrated here from the Dominican Republic. My dad was part of the big wave of Dominicans that migrated here in the 70s. My mom came in the 80s.
My family settled in the upper section of Manhattan. It has been renamed “Inwood,” however long-term residents call it Dyckman. I grew up in Dyckman with my older sibling in the 90s. In the 90s, the city was still in the midst of the 80s crack epidemic and the Heights was going at it with a drug war. I was too small to really remember or care, but I can tell you that I had a good childhood. Careful and cautious, but can’t complain about my childhood. Dyckman was and still is a safe haven: being around people that are just like you, are from the same culture, share common interests.
Growing up New York is being called “riquita” by our immigrant parents who didn’t get the privileges that we received.
Growing up New York in the 90s is having the fire hydrant fully opened and turning the street, into our beach then have the fire department shut it down for us to turn it back on within an hour.
Growing up New York is going trick-or-treating with my cousins and dressing up and knocking on businesses instead of homes cause New Yorkers are rude, but having to check each candy because it can be a rock instead.
Growing up New York makes you grow up real fast because you’re taking the train most of the time by yourself at 14 even younger. It’s so expensive here you start hustling at a young age. I started hustling by doing hair. I started legally working at 15. I still had a youth, however, you become an adult when you’re a teenager.
Growing up New York means growing up connected to 9/11. I was 14, a freshman in high school when the two planes hit those buildings. As we drove home, Uptown was my safe haven. Almost 19 years later (when I submit this it will be 19), the memory is starting to fade.
Growing up New York means growing up in frigid temps and always complaining about the winters and also about the summers. Summer in New York means … no, wait…. let me start this again. Summer in Uptown is having the music on blast all day, people sitting on stoops and old men playing dominoes. Not all New York has music playing all day and people sitting outside on the stoop.
When driving from Uptown to Downtown, you see and feel the change in scenery. It’s like two different worlds share an island. Like Mars and Pluto: different planets both bring different energies to the city.
Growing up New York as a first-generation American, as a Dominican-American, you’re either not American and not Dominican and you’re like, so what am I? You are just bringing your parents’ culture and American culture which become a colorful, dysfunctional, joyful, adventurous flavor. Feeling disconnected from the island most of your life, you feel like you don’t belong. I feel Dominican, however, Dominicans make me feel not Dominican.
I still live in the neighborhood that I grew up in and it’s not the same neighborhood. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is it a good thing or a bad thing?’ Having the resources now that weren’t available when I was growing up is the best thing and having people from the neighborhood that have built businesses and giving back has been a blessing to the community. Our small community — I call it a community of immigrants teaching, giving and seeing them prosper to what they want to be — is a gift. What’s a curse is the gentrification. Hearing landlords harass tenants, long-term residents, has been disturbing and sometimes I ask myself did the resources ever reach them.
My colorful neighborhood is changing. It’s called ‘Little DR,’ but as new residents who do not understand our culture come in, that will quickly turn into what Chinatown and Little Italy are today.
This is growing up New York, more like growing up in Washington Heights and Dyckman.
Yaddy Valerio is Dominican-American and resides in the Inwood section of Manhattan. She is a pastry chef and writer.