Visiting Undocumented New York

Visiting Undocumented New York

How much of the American dream is a dream?
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New York, ever since its establishment, has been a city of migrants: its character, a well-rounded one with a flush of black, brown and white on its skin. Indeed, in its truest form, New York is a concrete jungle that breathes in the toxins produced by automobiles driven by ‘underdogs.’

In its romantic form, which often overpowers the real one, it is the one hurdle you might never want to cross. There is always the sense that there is a better way of living, a better lifestyle, and a cleaner and safer neighborhood. But there is also a pleasure in the struggle in a sense that assures you that you would rather be homeless in New York than be confined in the precincts of any walled apartment, anywhere else in the world. It is the embodiment of an everlasting greed, a thirst for money and power, a pull so strong it resembles that of the seductive mistress whose plump lips have kept you from kissing your other, beautiful half for long.

No one seems to understand the invisible force that draws one to New York, yet New York becomes the one city everyone desires to breathe in. It isn’t just another Paris, just another London. For some even dare say that it isn’t even a city; it is a world in itself, crammed in 1 BHKs and rat-filled subways.A homeless man had once said to me, “You live everywhere else in the world but you survive in New York.” And that is the one common binding force that unifies all of New York- Upper East Side to the Bronx- the survival, the instinct that you can make it big today but lose it all tomorrow. Survival is key for most immigrants like me: those who have to power to make or erase the fantasy called New York.

The Undocumented New York

Although the chunks of white on his moustache and beard gave it away, Maged usually sported a baseball cap, more than anything; it gave him a chance to escape the embarrassment that comes accompanying old age.

When I first met Maged, he was working as a cashier at the Tomatina Café on 31st Street and 9th avenue (address changed for security reasons), energized and awaiting customers who were willing to have a conversation even if it was way past midnight. Learning that we were Indians, he had asked my friends and me if we planned to return to our country after graduating from college, “Why not?" I said, "maybe after a few years of working in New York.”

“You are young. You might say now that you wanna go back but by the time you come to your senior year, you gonna say no. Everyone wants to stay in New York and live the American dream. I know because I have seen so many do that. You must not fall for it; it’s a trap,” he said. What he hadn’t mentioned then, and what I had come to understand after continuously visiting him for several months, was that he was guilty of the same blissful entrapment.

Maged had come to New York on a student visa in 2003 after being accepted at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Thousands of miles away, ashes of religious wars covered his hometown Egypt. Terror attacks on tourists had deprived him of his only successful job as a tour guide. His small ears were constantly bombarded with questions about the failure of government control, of Islamic officials, of the religion itself.

The only answer an eighteen-year-old Maged had at that time conveyed the idea of escape. And so he did. Like most of the other Coptic Christians, like most of the people in the world, Maged’s idea of escape landed him in the States, in New York.

14 years after that day, Maged is an undocumented immigrant filing papers that would help him seek religious asylum. There is a chance that he could get persecuted in Egypt but there is also a risk of him being used, abducted or killed in the States, if and only if he decides to remain here undocumented.

For Maged, his New York is his East Harlem apartment, which he shares with two others, where he retires to smoke Hookah every morning after his night shift at Epice. For Maged, New York translates into escape, into safety, and into his favorite topic of conversation.

The Mexican’s New York

Undocumented immigrants have seen the darkest spaces in Manhattan: your favorite Bangladeshi Halal cart guy who serves the best lamb over rice, the Uber driver you forgot to wish goodnight, the delivery boy from the nearest Chinese restaurant whose calls you missed seven times and who waited at your door for another 15 minutes without demanding an explanation of why you didn’t tip. And then there is Jose.

I had met Jose through Maged. He swept the floor while constantly checking on us to see if he could understand any English word. Jose is 17 and uses the translator on his phone to converse with Maged. Jose was smuggled into the States through the Mexican border, all after he paid approximately $15,000.

Jose earns about $450 a week and sends most of the money to clear off his debts. He dreams of sending his younger siblings to a school in the States but does not know the process.

For Jose, New York is from where his neighbors’ kid in Mexico earned money, it is the reason the neighbors have big houses, the reason why their younger kids attend a better school. It is the place where he can buy a cell phone, a computer and a video game. For him, New York is the only place where he is welcomed without judgments, the place that took him 49 days to reach (after he crossed the border), where he is now going to purchase his first Xbox, a place where his journey just begun.

Indeed, New York is an exciting journey: a thrill. In short, New York is a mystery, of skyscrapers and the homeless shelters, of the Empire State building and the Tenement Museum. You can never have enough of it.

It is a topic every writer, ever journalist has either once covered or certainly wants to cover before she finally drops her pen. And no matter how much you read about New York, or write about it, you can never grow weary of it. No two writings on New York can ever be the same just like your New York can never be the same as mine, or as any other New Yorker’s.

Cover Image Credit: Sushi Roy

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Your Wait time At Theme Parks Is Not Unfair, You're Just Impatient

Your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself.

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Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios "unboxed" on June 30, 2018. My friend and I decided to brave the crowds on opening day. We got to the park around 7 AM only to find out that the park opened around 6 AM. Upon some more scrolling through multiple Disney Annual Passholder Facebook groups, we discovered that people were waiting outside the park as early as 1 AM.

We knew we'd be waiting in line for the bulk of the Toy Story Land unboxing day. There were four main lines in the new land: the line to enter the land; the line for Slinky Dog Dash, the new roller coaster; the line for Alien Spinning Saucers, the easier of the new rides in the land; Toy Story Mania, the (now old news) arcade-type ride; and the new quick-service restaurant, Woody's Lunchbox (complete with grilled cheese and "grown-up drinks").

Because we were so early, we did not have to wait in line to get into the land. We decided to ride Alien Spinning Saucers first. The posted wait time was 150 minutes, but my friend timed the line and we only waited for 50 minutes. Next, we tried to find the line for Slinky Dog Dash. After receiving conflicting answers, the runaround, and even an, "I don't know, good luck," from multiple Cast Members, we exited the land to find the beginning of the Slinky line. We were then told that there was only one line to enter the park that eventually broke off into the Slinky line. We were not about to wait to get back into the area we just left, so we got a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania that we didn't plan on using in order to be let into the land sooner. We still had to wait for our time, so we decided to get the exclusive Little Green Man alien popcorn bin—this took an entire hour. We then used our Fastpass to enter the land, found the Slinky line, and proceeded to wait for two and a half hours only for the ride to shut down due to rain. But we've come this far and rain was not about to stop us. We waited an hour, still in line and under a covered area, for the rain to stop. Then, we waited another hour and a half to get on the ride from there once it reopened (mainly because they prioritized people who missed their Fastpass time due to the rain). After that, we used the mobile order feature on the My Disney Experience app to skip part of the line at Woody's Lunchbox.

Did you know that there is actually a psychological science to waiting? In the hospitality industry, this science is the difference between "perceived wait" and "actual wait." A perceived wait is how long you feel like you are waiting, while the actual wait is, of course, the real and factual time you wait. There are eight things that affect the perceived wait time: unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time, pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits, anxiety makes waits feel longer, uncertain waits are longer than certain waits, unexplained waits are longer than explained waits, unfair waits are longer than equitable waits, people will wait longer for more valuable service and solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

Our perceived wait time for Alien Spinning Saucers was short because we expected it to be longer. Our wait for the popcorn seemed longer because it was unoccupied and unexplained. Our wait for the rain to stop so the ride could reopen seemed shorter because it was explained. Our wait between the ride reopening and getting on the coaster seemed longer because it felt unfair for Disney to let so many Fastpass holders through while more people waited through the rain. Our entire wait for Slinky Dog Dash seemed longer because we were not told the wait time in the beginning. Our wait for our food after placing a mobile order seemed shorter because it was an in-process wait. We also didn't mind wait long wait times for any of these experiences because they were new and we placed more value on them than other rides or restaurants at Disney. The people who arrived at 1 AM just added five hours to their perceived wait

Some non-theme park examples of this science of waiting in the hospitality industry would be waiting at a restaurant, movie theater, hotel, performance or even grocery store. When I went to see "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the power went out in the theater right as we arrived. Not only did we have to wait for it to come back and for them to reset the projectors, I had to wait in a bit of anxiety because the power outage spooked me. It was only a 30-minute wait but felt so much longer. At the quick-service restaurant where I work, we track the time from when the guest places their order to the time they receive their food. Guests in the drive-thru will complain about 10 or more minute waits, when our screens tell us they have only been waiting four or five minutes. Their actual wait was the four or five minutes that we track because this is when they first request our service, but their perceived wait begins the moment they pull into the parking lot and join the line because this is when they begin interacting with our business. While in line, they are experiencing pre-process wait times; after placing the order, they experience in-process wait times.

Establishments in the hospitality industry do what they can to cut down on guests' wait times. For example, theme parks offer services like Disney's Fastpass or Universal's Express pass in order to cut down the time waiting in lines so guests have more time to buy food and merchandise. Stores like Target or Wal-Mart offer self-checkout to give guests that in-process wait time. Movie theaters allow you to check in and get tickets on a mobile app and some quick-service restaurants let you place mobile or online orders. So why do people still get so bent out of shape about being forced to wait?

On Toy Story Land unboxing day, I witnessed a woman make a small scene about being forced to wait to exit the new land. Cast Members were regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the land due to the large crowd and the line that was in place to enter the land. Those exiting the land needed to wait while those entering moved forward from the line. Looking from the outside of the situation as I was, this all makes sense. However, the woman I saw may have felt that her wait was unfair or unexplained. She switched between her hands on her hips and her arms crossed, communicated with her body language that she was not happy. Her face was in a nasty scowl at those entering the land and the Cast Members in the area. She kept shaking her head at those in her group and when allowed to proceed out of the land, I could tell she was making snide comments about the wait.

At work, we sometimes run a double drive-thru in which team members with iPads will take orders outside and a sequencer will direct cars so that they stay in the correct order moving toward the window. In my experience as the sequencer, I will inform the drivers which car to follow, they will acknowledge me and then still proceed to dart in front of other cars just so they make it to the window maybe a whole minute sooner. Not only is this rude, but it puts this car and the cars around them at risk of receiving the wrong food because they are now out of order. We catch these instances more often than not, but it still adds stress and makes the other guests upset. Perhaps these guests feel like their wait is also unfair or unexplained, but if they look at the situation from the outside or from the restaurant's perspective, they would understand why they need to follow the blue Toyota.

The truth of the matter is that your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself. We all want instant gratification, I get it. But in reality, we have to wait for some things. It takes time to prepare a meal. It takes time to experience a ride at a theme park that everyone else wants to go on. It takes time to ring up groceries. It takes patience to live in this world.

So next time you find yourself waiting, take a minute to remember the difference between perceived and actual wait times. Think about the eight aspects of waiting that affect your perceived wait. Do what you can to realize why you are waiting or keep yourself occupied in this wait. Don't be impatient. That's no way to live your life.

Cover Image Credit:

Aranxa Esteve

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With Liberty And Justice For All

Does granting justice to others mean we have to sacrifice our liberty?
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Like most public elementary school kids, I grew up saying the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of class every day. But to be honest, I always dreaded it. It was something extra we had to do. A box we had to check.

No one understood the true meaning of the words. As an eight-year-old, no one taught me what justice or liberty were. It wasn't until years later that I finally understood the true meaning of the words I said in a classroom so long ago.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…

To what are we pledging our allegiance, our loyalty to? The United States of America, sure. But what does that entail? Not many know. Does it mean to vote? Does it mean to fight in the military? Everyone has a different answer to that question. For me, the answer is to fight for the rights of migrants and other immigrants.

And to the republic for which it stands…

What exactly is our nation standing for? What are its values? Its beliefs? Does it involve treating those less fortunate than us with compassion? Or is it everybody for themselves?

One nation under God, indivisible…

Indivisible. United. Are we united? As a country are we united? On April 30, 2018, President Trump tweeted in response to a group of 1,200 migrants that traveled from Central America to seek a better life for their children. Only 200 of them, most of them children, desire asylum in the United States.

Asylum is a legal immigration process where those that have been victimized or fear being victimized in their home countries “based on their race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership in a particular group" can apply for a special type of visa to live in the United States.

According to his tweet, President Trump viewed the migrants as a prime example of how ineffective U.S. immigration laws are. On April 30, 2018, eight of the migrants were allowed to apply for asylum. This does not mean they will be granted citizenship. It simply means they are starting the process to legally enter U.S. borders.

With liberty and justice for all…

Many of the migrants want a better life for their kids. Many of them are fleeing their countries due to poverty and threats of violence from gang members. As a child, I never had to worry about sleeping on a cold, cement floor because my parents didn't make enough money. As a child, I never had to worry about my parents being threatened in the dead of night by a gang member, demanding something in exchange for my life. One thing is certain for these migrants: there is no going back.

Everyone deserves justice. It's easy to judge the situation from so many miles away. But I am not in their shoes. And neither are so many others. It's easy to dismiss what you can't see.

But what can I do? I have my own family, my own life to worry about. I have bills to pay just like everybody else. But what would you do if it was your kid? Your mother or father? Your friend who was treated without compassion when they entered another country?

Everyone deserves liberty. Does granting justice to others mean we have to sacrifice our liberty? Not necessarily. Not if we act. As corny as it sounds, not doing something is the worst thing to do. Vote. Write. Protest. Let your voice be heard. And one day, change may happen.

Cover Image Credit: Everypixel

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