13. Why do I love New York? Because I’m a Queens girl!
“When I used to ride the N train as a kid, my mother would point out the glittering Manhattan skyline before our train dipped under the 59th Street bridge and say, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing?” That was in the early nineties, when the subway stations in Astoria were still covered with graffiti dots the size of human heads and the glass windows were so scratched that it was hard to make out much at all. I guess being a Queens girl would make me technically bridge-and-tunnel, a joke that my girlfriends and I like to play up now when we tease our hair mercilessly high on Saturday nights and wear our shiny $29.99 Forever 21 polyester shirts to drunkenly squawk at each other at the entrance of a past-prime Chelsea club.
For a long time, I found myself on the defensive about Queens. I’d explain to people in my Chicago college that the boroughs in New York were all connected anyway, that no one who’s really from the city actually lives in Manhattan anymore. But somewhere along the way Astoria became inexplicably cool, so I changed my tune once again. I live in Astoria, I’d say casually, but I grew up there.
As I look back on all of this, it’s easy to write myself off as shallow, and maybe I am, just a little bit. But to be a Queens girl who leaves Queens is something that forms the core of my best friendships; girls who understand the rush of the train underneath the bridge as the transition from one world to another. Even as a child, a trip to Manhattan was to be explicitly understood as something special: Central Park, FAO Schwarz, the Temple of Dendur at the Met. Manhattan is only fifteen minutes away from where I grew up, but in the most awful of clichés come to life, it’s an island whose distance from there I’ve only recently begun to comprehend.
These days, I’m in Manhattan often, as an art intern working the back galleries and hallways of museums that I’d once walked through in hushed reverence. On my worst nights, I take the train home after late events and openings and think to myself that I’m just a sham, that my love for the arts means very little in this mad, status-driven city. I hate the N on those nights, hate that I take a train home instead of a cab to the Upper East, hate having to wait tables, hate being driven to insecurity by things that I’d survived for my 21 years without. I hate Queens, and I hate Manhattan, and most of all, I hate New York for the fear of falling into the pull of lack-and-want that powers most everyone who walks on these packed streets.
But when the train surfaces again in Queens, I look back at the lights of the city and remember when my mother used to press her head up against mine and ask me if I thought that it was the most beautiful thing. It must’ve been astonishing to see this glittering city from her view; a girl raised in the tumult of collective farms during the Cultural Revolution. She’d left China to raise a daughter dressed in secondhand clothes, a daughter who carries with her still an obsessive love of art born from the museum visits of her childhood, a daughter who rides the trains day in and day out between worlds and boroughs. It is then that I stop thinking that Manhattan and Queens are so far away, that I could never even come close to hating a city whose distances, as wide as they are, could be so easily crossed.” —Jeanne Su