I was 8 years old when I watched my first Broadway show, “Wicked.” I remember being enchanted by the beauty of it all. I couldn’t keep my eyes in one place. The glittering lights of the Broadway sign, the ceaseless motion of New Yorkers around me and the extravagant hair and makeup all battled for my attention. I had my first kiss next to a bodega I still go to. It’s on the same block as my elementary school that my sister now attends. I celebrated my acceptance into Yale at my favorite cafe — Martha’s Country Bakery, a hidden gem in Queens.
My favorite novel — “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald — depicts a gluttonous 1920s New York. And some of my favorite TV shows portray the many different versions of the city. “Sex and the City” depicts a sex-and-martini-driven New York. “Gossip Girl” portrays the Upper East Side as the shopping and prep school center of the world. And “Gilmore Girls” shows New York as an escape from — ironically — Connecticut, fueled by thrift stores and hot dog stands.
But New York has never been a given. It’s always something we earn, reshape and give back to. Its biggest asset is the people who live in it, who make it what it is.
New York City has and always will hold a special place in my heart and the hearts of many others. There are few places on Earth that offer the same versatility and vast opportunity. The vibrancy of the city makes it the cultural, political and business epicenter that it is.
There have been few moments in which the city has stood as still as it is now.
The September 11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis all put immense strain on the functioning of the city. Despite the fact that, just like its inhabitants, New York has proven resilient in the past, there have been few events that have put such a strenuous, sudden and long-lasting halt to the city as COVID-19 has. But New Yorkers aren’t unfamiliar to hardship — they know what they need to do to win their city back.
Protests are taking place in a number of states advocating to reopen the economy. These protesters argue that the economic ramifications of the business closures are taking a larger toll than the potential fatalities of COVID-19. This is not the generally shared sentiment in New York City. Rather, Andrew Cuomo has stated that, as much as he is striving toward relaunching the economy, we are simply not there yet. The issue goes farther than merely restarting these businesses. The public transportation and mass gatherings inherent in opening them prove the greatest risk. The infection rate and corresponding death toll would inevitably rise if these businesses open prematurely. New Yorkers are well aware of all that is at stake, and they’re willing to sacrifice all they are accustomed to in order to eventually gain it back.
Yet, this doesn’t change the fact that small businesses are suffering deeply amidst this pandemic. While larger companies are able to plan for an economic return, many small businesses struggle to even imagine it. Instead, these small business owners are considering their permanent closure. Many have had no choice but to resort to GoFundMe campaigns, such as Imperial Ballroom, a family-owned dance studio located in the heart of Chinatown. The commissioner of New York City’s Department of Small Business Services, Gregg Bishop, stated that he doesn’t “think the New York that we left will be back for some years.”
My city is not the only one in the world facing overwhelming struggles in the face of this pandemic. However, no other cultural center has been devastated more than New York City: a shortage in health care professionals and respirators, massive economic strain and a president who is hesitant to provide resources to the city that gave him his wealth. All of these factors are affecting the modern-day New York that is changing in front of us — the one that we have the opportunity and responsibility to guide in the right direction.
New York will always be my home. Regardless of where the future takes me, whether that be another state, country or continent, it will always be where my roots lie. While I have unrelenting faith that New York City will come out strong against this crisis, I do not fail to recognize that it will take an immense amount of work to get there.
The dedication, intensity and commitment I’ve seen in my fellow New Yorkers needs to come to the forefront now. Following CDC guidelines, maintaining social distance and practicing public health measures are all pivotal to getting the New York we love back.
What’s getting me through this unprecedented and unanticipated hardship is the knowledge that we’ll always have New York. We just have to work to keep it.
LEILA JACKSON is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her columns run on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .