I have very mixed emotions about the Bronx, where I grew up for the first 12 years of my life (1969-1980), and which remains the closest thing I have to a place I consider home, in a cultural sense. Being able to live there again while my kids were still young was very important to me, even though I knew we’d have to move at some point soon after they started school, and the five years we did were a great experience, positive and negative, allowing me simultaneously reconnect and disconnect before taking the inevitable next step of homeownership.
When my son, Isaac, came home with the assignment to put together a family cultural project — Where Are You From? — I wasn’t sure how to approach it from my side of the family, especially in contrast to my wife’s much more specific and rich Cuban heritage. I’m a mutt without a home, the epitome of a melting pot kid (or is that salad bowl?), with connections to many cultures but no firm roots in any.
Focusing on the Bronx was an interesting and enlightening challenge, especially when trying to boil it all down to a 3rd grade level, and by the end, I was left with the same mixed emotions, a combination of pride and disappointment, hope and disdain. I emphasized the positive, of course, but I’d be lying if I denied the bitter taste of the negative wasn’t still on my tongue, things like the new Yankee Stadium, the miserable public school system and the general feeling of it being a second-class citizen in New York City, on par with or sometimes behind Staten Island.
I’m happy with how the report came out, though, arguably holding its own with Cuba. I realize both of my kids will probably never have the same connection to the Bronx that I have, but at least they’ll be able to appreciate that it has a rich history of its own and, hopefully, acknowledge their five years living there proudly and not become suburban snobs now that we’re living in New Jersey.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? THE BRONX
HISTORY: The Bronx is named after a sea captain from Sweden named Jonas Bronck. He was the first European settler to live there in 1639, when it was all farmland. Then in the 1800s people from Ireland and Germany moved to the Bronx and helped build railroad tracks and bridges. In 1904, the first subway that connected the Bronx to Manhattan was built, and many new buildings were built and hundreds of thousands of people moved there.
LOCATION AND CLIMATE: New York City has 5 sections called Boroughs. The Bronx is one of them and it is the only one that isn’t an island. It is about 20 miles away from Bloomfield and has the same weather.
LANGUAGE: People in the Bronx come from many different countries. Most of them speak English and Spanish, though.
POPULATION: There are 1.3 million people living in the Bronx. They are mostly Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Black Americans.
POLITICS: The Bronx has a Borough President. Barack Obama received 89% of the votes in the Bronx for President of the United States.
RELIGION: People in the Bronx practice many different religions, but most are Catholic.
CULTURE: Hip-Hop (including rap music) was born in the Bronx, in the 1970s. The Bronx Museum of the Arts features more than 800 works of art by artists from all over the world.
PLACES: The Bronx is the home of Yankee Stadium, Fordham University, the Bronx Zoo and Van Cortlandt Park.
FOOD: People in the Bronx are from many different countries, so there are all different kinds of foods they eat, including Latin, Italian, Chinese, Korean and West Indian.
FAMILY: My Dad was born in the Bronx, and his family moved there from Puerto Rico and Mississippi in the 1960s. I lived there for five years, and I have four cousins who still live there.