The term melting pot was coined in 1908 by Israel Zangwill. It was first used as a metaphor to describe the union of many nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. New York City is a place where over 800 languages are spoken and is the quintessential melting pot. The city consists of 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island each with its own unique diversity of people. Not one culture dominates the others, they all blend together to create something that is more than the addition of its parts.
NYC is a place where everyone is accepted. There is a deep understanding in people to keep aspects of their old culture but to take part in their new American one as well. The American dream of owning a house with a white picket fence might be realized differently in NYC as housing prices are ever more expensive, but nonetheless everyone aspires to purchase some property and make the city their home. Whether its home country flags hanging by the entrance or ripening tomatoes on the front porch it’s very easy to spot the different ethnicities present in the city. Walking through the various neighborhoods one can find a plethora of Bollywood films and incense from Little India, Russian baths in Little Odessa, and live eels and Chinese chess in Chinatown.
Many of the different cultures and ethnicities that exist can be seen through food present in the city. NYC is home to some of the best Italian food and arguably better pizza than is offered in Naples itself. Bagels, Matzo ball soup, and smoked meat once representing the high Jewish population present are now symbols associated with NYC. As any local will tell you, the Asian influence is huge with a booming Chinatown and more Asian restaurants than one can imagine. As for the French, there are more French restaurants in NYC than in Paris. All you have to do is walk down the busy streets to discover the different cuisines of the world.
New Yorkers are also very aware of the surrounding religions and cultures. It is very common to work with people of different religions and so people are very familiar with the not so common holidays including Passover (Jewish), Ramadan (Muslim), Chinese New Year (Chinese), and Kwanzaa (African), etc. It creates an environment for religion to be openly expressed without any fears. Having to explain one’s religion is a foreign concept to many when they leave the island (of NYC).
The culture of NYC is something incredible. Most tourists only visit Manhattan and although they see Little Italy and Chinatown they miss so much of the diversity present in the city. Going into the other boroughs and wandering around the streets of the different enclaves is where the story of New York is really told. Wander around Brooklyn and you will find Russian skin specialists practicing ancient remedies, neighborhoods that only speak Yiddish, and people who sport the clothes of the old country.
When you visit, I encourage you to try some of the ethnic foods and focus less on the fast food, wander around a neighborhood that doesn’t feel like the United States, and listen to the languages you hear.