I woke up one morning at my home in Astoria, New York and decided that a trip to Coney Island, New York was in order, so I quickly devised my itinerary for the day. Coney Island was a place I visited as a child with my family, but it is not a location I have visited often in my young adult years. As a child, Coney Island was a place of fun, food, and family. The beach and the amusement park rides could easily take you to another world, and as I recall, it often did, at least for me. Looking back, I think fondly of my first visits to that mecca of fun, sun, and sand, but on this morning, I set out to Coney Island, New York with a new objective in mind. Specifically, I wanted to pay attention to the things that most people do not see amidst all of the distractions. Past the glowing lights, the screams from the amusement park rides, and aside from the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, there are people of all kinds out living their lives. Too often I have been distracted by the sights and sounds of what was going on around me, but this visit was different. This time, I ventured out alone with the intent of observing those around me. It was an interesting adventure, and it was one that made me reflect on the human race and the changes that have been made in our culture and society over the past few years.
Years ago, my ventures to this destination would have been focused on the typical tourist attractions; namely Nathan’s Famous hotdogs, which I could never resist. But this time, I intentionally tried to visit locations that were off of the beaten path so that I could experience what the locals were experiencing. Namely, I found a location called the Palmyra Restaurant which sold food that was of the Uzbek culture. I asked the restaurant waiter what would be a good option, and he suggested the mutton. I learned that this was a type of meat made out of sheep, and that is because there are a lot of sheep in Uzbekistan. I listened in on conversations around me as I dined and I noticed that people in the restaurant were mostly non-white and they spoke very quietly compared to the hustle-and-bustle that is common in your average restaurant. This restaurant had more of a family atmosphere, and there were people of many cultures present. I noticed some individuals speaking in a language that I could not understand, and it made me think about language and culture. Specifically, I have always empathized with individuals who come to America and feel the need to leave their language and their culture behind, especially if they move to America as adults. I also began to think about how difficult it would be to survive in a new country as a new language is being learned. I imagine it is a feeling of complete helplessness, and I also imagine that it is a very isolating experience. During my visit to the restaurant, I felt a similar feeling of isolation and a feeling that I did not belong, but I had the privilege to quickly escape this feeling, while many immigrants do not have this privilege to walk out of a door and into a new world that is so similar to them.
As I ventured out the door of that restaurant and back out onto the street, the familiar Coney Island landmarks drew in my attention, and I thought it would be interesting to contrast my experience with the tourist traps and the more local areas. I made my way to all of the landmark attractions of Coney Island, trying to listen to conversations along the way. Many people appeared to be visiting on vacation, and I was surprised to see that there were mostly white, lower-and-middle class families enjoying the area. However, when I looked at the vendors and the ride operators, I noticed that these individuals were mostly non-white. This directed my mind back to privilege and the difficulties of being a minority in today’s culture. As I continued my walk, I saw two girls holding hands, and I thought it incredible that they had such courage, and I was even more pleased that no one seemed to bat an eye. When I think about the changes our society has made, particularly within my generation, I was both proud to be a member of the generation, and shocked that other generations ostracized individuals based on their sexual preferences.
Overall, this experience helped me to better understand myself and the culture in which I live. Immersing myself with a purpose led me to see new sides of the world that I knew were there, but never gave special attention to amid all of life’s distractions. This was a humbling trip for me as I realized that I am part of the problem; when we ignore differences, we just make ourselves stand out more, and we also segregate as a result. This project was important to me because it opened my eyes to class differences, racial differences, and sexual orientation differences that I otherwise would not have seen. It made me reflect critically on my own blind spots, biases, and assumptions, and hopefully, it made me a more culturally competent individual.