West 4th Street, America

I’ve been born many times. Once from stardust to flesh; once from my mother’s womb to Apt. 4; once each time I’ve ventured past the boundaries of neighborhood, frame of mind, or place in the heart; once each time I’ve beaten the odds.

Eighteen years into my stint as a human being, I was born from the familiar accents of Washington Heights and The Bronx to the exotic lands of Greenwich Village. I remember the very moment on West 4th Street when my eyes shot open with wonder and my lungs filled with air. Yes, I was still on these same island and only 174 blocks south of my starting point, but I’d arrived in a different America.

I have no memory of first meetings with most of my beautiful, multicultural, multilingual, multiracial college circle. I don’t remember when I tried my first dolma, when I first heard Creole, or when I first became aware of a non-Roman Catholic Christian God. It must have been my complete lack of resistance. These new things seem to have simply seeped in, reshaping me and expanding me, giving me glimpses of skin and bone and life outside my own. I felt boundless. Enamored of every new accent in a word, rhythm in a dance, taste in a meal. I never tired of learning more, knowing more. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of these people.

My NYU family converged as one body from mothers and fathers from six different continents. And we were a gorgeous body. Healthy. Vibrant. Supple. Flexible. Rejection, deprivation, stagnation, all things known to us, to our ancestors, in other times and places, but not among us. Not between us. We worshiped God as defined by four world religions, some among us worshipping none at all. We cursed in six languages, climbed out of closets, respectfully broke traditions, and worked for the money we needed to pay for school, food, and endless shots of tequila at Panchito’s. We argued, we got on each other’s nerves, we danced and laughed our asses off, and we loved each other.

We had very little in common, really. I often wonder why we came together as magically as we did. When I look at the picture of us (missing are the beloved photographer from Haiti, another couple of Greeks, and an Italian) I marvel at the long threads behind us, the impossible odds of them being woven together in exactly this way, on West 4th Street, America.

The fact that we came together at all is America to me, and loving these people as much as I do is my heart’s 4th of July.

As the candles are lit on our country’s Independence Day cake, I hope for our rebirth. I celebrate our impossible odds, our boundlessness, and our love for every new accent in a word, rhythm in a dance, taste in a meal. May we never tire of learning more, knowing more. And may we never, ever get enough of each other.

 

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