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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A Letter To My Humans On Our Last Day Together

We never thought this day would come.
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I didn't sleep much last night after I saw your tears. I would have gotten up to snuggle you, but I am just too weak. We both know my time with you is coming close to its end, and I just can't believe it how fast it has happened.

I remember the first time I saw you like it was yesterday.

You guys were squealing and jumping all around, because you were going home with a new dog. Dad, I can still feel your strong hands lifting me from the crate where the rest of my puppy brothers and sisters were snuggled around my warm, comforting puppy Momma. You held me up so that my chunky belly and floppy wrinkles squished my face together, and looked me right in the eyes, grinning, “She's the one."

I was so nervous on the way to my new home, I really didn't know what to expect.

But now, 12 years later as I sit in the sun on the front porch, trying to keep my wise, old eyes open, I am so grateful for you. We have been through it all together.

Twelve “First Days of School." Losing your first teeth. Watching Mom hang great tests on the refrigerator. Letting you guys use my fur as a tissue for your tears. Sneaking Halloween candy from your pillowcases.

Keeping quiet while Santa put your gifts under the tree each year. Never telling Mom and Dad when everyone started sneaking around. Being at the door to greet you no matter how long you were gone. Getting to be in senior pictures. Waking you up with big, sloppy kisses despite the sun not even being up.

Always going to the basement first, to make sure there wasn't anything scary. Catching your first fish. First dates. Every birthday. Prom pictures. Happily watching dad as he taught the boys how to throw every kind of ball. Chasing the sticks you threw, even though it got harder over the years.

Cuddling every time any of you weren't feeling well. Running in the sprinkler all summer long. Claiming the title “Shotgun Rider" when you guys finally learned how to drive. Watching you cry in mom and dads arms before your graduation. Feeling lost every time you went on vacation without me.

Witnessing the awkward years that you magically all overcame. Hearing my siblings learn to read. Comforting you when you lost grandma and grandpa. Listening to your phone conversations. Celebrating new jobs. Licking your scraped knees when you would fall.

Hearing your shower singing. Sidewalk chalk and bubbles in the sun. New pets. Family reunions. Sleepovers. Watching you wave goodbye to me as the jam-packed car sped up the driveway to drop you off at college. So many memories in what feels like so little time.

When the time comes today, we will all be crying. We won't want to say goodbye. My eyes might look glossy, but just know that I feel your love and I see you hugging each other. I love that, I love when we are all together.

I want you to remember the times we shared, every milestone that I got to be a part of.

I won't be waiting for you at the door anymore and my fur will slowly stop covering your clothes. It will be different, and the house will feel empty. But I will be there in spirit.

No matter how bad of a game you played, how terrible your work day was, how ugly your outfit is, how bad you smell, how much money you have, I could go on; I will always love you just the way you are. You cared for me and I cared for you. We are companions, partners in crime.

To you, I was simply a part of your life, but to me, you were my entire life.

Thank you for letting me grow up with you.

Love always,

Your family dog

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?

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Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

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