It’s fall now, so when I leave my apartment I have to remember to grab a jacket. I walk down the stairs to the lobby of my building and pass the young children playing ball in the hallway. As I approach the door to exit, I hold it open for an elderly lady who is coming in. She passes me and says, “Gracias, Mi Amor.” I smile at her. And I smile because I am home.
Home, literally. But more importantly, home in the figurative sense. Although I have only lived in my upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights for a year now, I am comfortable and this is my new home. California will always be my home too. That is where my family is, it’s where my heart is. It’s where I was made. But NYC is where I became alive, it’s where I started living. And my Washington Heights neighborhood is where I belong.
I walk up Broadway and feel comfort; I’m amongst my people. The old man who sits on his stoop and hollers out to his friends in Spanish, he reminds me of my Abuelo Victor who does the same from the porch of his house in Panamá. The woman who owns the Bodega and recognizes me, she calls me, Mami. The Coquito lady and her cart are still stationed in the same place she’s been all summer. A few months ago, for a dollar she would hand me a small cup filled with memories of the many Raspados I had as a child. Now she hands customers a steaming hot drink to combat the chilly weather.
It’s the blonde-haired Dominican woman, Gloria, who waves and smiles as I pass by her hair salon. She doesn’t know English and my Spanish is sketchy— but she always knows exactly what to do with my hair. Our lack of communication reminds me of my cousins in Panamá, who I also just smile and nod at. It’s the women in the nail shop, with heads full of pink rollos, who remind me of Ma and my Tías. The fellas laughing in front the nearby barber shop remind me of my brother.
It’s the group of young girls walking and laughing that make me wish I could teleport back to their age. I would love to experience life as a teenager in New York City.
As I enter the bakery, some of the people sitting in here look like me and others don’t. They speak Spanish fluently and others speak it sparingly. Either way, the accent I hear when they speak reminds me of my family. The old men playing dominoes in the corner booth are singing old Merengue songs as I order my Palmera (In Panamá they are called Orejas). Everything I’m seeing, smelling, hearing, and tasting reminds me that I am connected to and a part of this culture.
Amongst this bubbling activity that takes place in a ten block radius, I feel calm. I am surrounded by people who are like me. It’s where in a sea of Dominican flags, a Panamanian flag flaps in the wind as it hangs from someone’s window. I stop to capture the moment with a picture; they’re my people!
Walking back to my building, I pass my Super who is fixing something on the door. He reminds me of my Dad, who also is always fixing something at his house. Walking back up to my apartment, I think about how I’ve never felt so connected to the people around me, than I do now.
Whether it’s because of the color of my skin or because of my culture, I fit in here. I am like everyone else and no one asks me, “What are you?”
Latest posts by Tamika Burgess (see all)
- I Want to Get Married - October 18, 2017
- I Broke Up With My Toxic Friend - June 25, 2017
- My Natural Hair Journey Reminds Me That I Am Beautiful - May 24, 2017