This visual essay was originally published on La Galeria Magazine - La Galería Magazine provides content that encourages dialogue, celebrates the community, and inspires action among Dominicans of the Diaspora.
I felt fear, and did it anyway. Thankfully, Google Maps had taken us right up to the seaport. Born and bred in New York City and I still don’t understand the financial district labyrinth. One sharp right onto Perry street which then turns into Wall street and merges on to Fulton and so and on and so forth and before you know it you’re lost in front of another Starbucks. I stood in front of the small heliport trying to keep the sunlight out of my eyes as I inspected each bright, shiny, helicopter. I had never seen one up that close. The wind bullied me into the walkway towards the helicopter that would take me on a sightseeing tour over the Hudson River. I didn’t say much as our instructor was giving us directions. No photos as we walk to the helicopter. This is the string you pull to release your life jacket. Are you listening?
I walked down 57th towards Fifth Ave, dodging men in pressed suits with perfectly parted slicked back hair. I shuffled past tourists anxious to begin shopping sprees. My walk came to a winy stop, distracted by the display windows of Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdales. I roamed these streets of Manhattan each day and they still managed to make a tourist out of me. This New York reflected back with questions.
The West Village. Midtown. Downtown Brooklyn. My bloque: D-block in the Bronx.
Intersections that exist in opposition to one another, guilty of conjuring discordant theories of power, access, and privilege. The Bronx was both hell and haven. The Bronx was home. I went away to college and moved out over eight years ago. On my way to visit Mami, I approach building 1743 on Davidson Avenue with cautious familiarity. The streets are dark and desolate, with flickering streetlights in my periphery. I’m that girl in red Pepe Jeans, white and red Nike Huaraches, and a thick layer of gel swooping my bangs across my temples in a tight, hard, ponytail again. I walk past the block boys as gravity nudges me down the snake hill onto D-block. Block boys rarely left the block. In a city that changed so quickly, D-block was there, disintegrating in the same ways I remembered.
I stared quizzically at the two young women accompanying me on the helicopter tour. They were from Amsterdam, loud, and boisterous like a fire truck siren whirling past and muting intriguing conversation over port wine. I didn’t mind that they were part of the packaged deal: Arial views of Governor and Ellis Islands, the freedom tower, the empire state building, Central Park, and only a quick glimpse of the George Washington Bridge, because, I’m sorry, the tour doesn’t go that far uptown. I surveyed the quick rise and fall of buildings draped across the island. Thought of iced coffee cups spilling over as strangers, eyes locked on their respective phone screens, collided into one another at 74th and Madison. The tour was captivating, but it came with a bite. I touched back down to the heliport and knew the city had already changed. What a state of perpetual paradox.
Being a modern New Yorker is resisting the urge to grow disdainful of its ephemeral quality. It is to see yourself both as witness and active participant in its preservation and rebirth.