Interview of an expatriate New Yorker... By Rémi & Vincent

In which part of New York did you live?
Manhattan… You have to know that if someone says that he/she lives in New York it means they live in Manhattan otherwise they will specify another borough.

When did you live there?
I was born in New York City and I lived there for a couple of years, then I went to Washington DC, and I returned to New York afterwards.

What, for you, is the “American dream”?
The stereotype of the American dream  is to be very rich and famous. I never really believed in it that much because I don’t think that being rich or famous brings happiness.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the American dream; do you think that it was used to attract people from the “old continent”?
There is indeed the idea of freedom symbolized by this monument but the American dream is way more ancient than that. The first European people who arrived in America left Europe because of persecutions, therefore they searched for the promise land with the freedom to speak, the freedom to worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear...

Do you think that New York represents the American dream?
It did in the 19th century… Now, probably, living in New York, Los Angeles or any other big city in the US is seen as a good thing and symbols of the American dream may contribute to that.

What is the role of  New York today, is it financial, political?
It definitely is financial as Wall Street has a very symbolic importance. New York has also a cultural role with Classical music, the arts in general and Broadway. Moreover, New York still has an educational importance with prestigious universities. You have to keep in mind that New York is a sort of counter-power to Washington.

Do you think that New Yorkers are proud of traders?
Wall Steet is part of New York, it is historically very important as it is situated in the oldest part of New York (the south of Manhattan is the oldest part of the city). I am not sure they like them. Traders are part of New York but Wall Street is not NYC.

Are they considered as evil?
A lot has changed since I lived there. Finance has always been a part of New York, but there have been a lot of scandals on Wall Street which made New Yorkers loose some of their confidence in it.

How do you feel about the evolution of the city?
It is a lot better now on certain aspects. It definitely is a safer place to be in but it is even more expensive than before to live there. Money has even more importance than before which is maybe not such a good thing…

What memories do you have of the city?
One thing I do remember, it was on my 16th birthday, I had lunch on top of the World Trade Center and I remember realizing that the towers actually moved, that was very scary... And realizing also that New York is actually a port city which you don’t really see when you’re in town. I also remember being in Central Park which is, according to me, the greatest place in the world!

Which country do you prefer?
I don’t think I could answer that as I’ve not lived in the US for a long time. I think things change very very quickly. There are always things changing in New York, all the time. Remember the emblematic song: “New York, New York, the city that never sleeps”.

Are New Yorkers proud of their cultural heritage? Do they try to protect it or has it no importance for them?
It’s part of their life, they want to protect it a little bit, it is part of their daily life, it is their way of being and behaving. They accept differences and they don’t really think about it that much.

According to you, what is the New York way of life?
Maybe to accept differences? Though from different origins, cultures, etc., people manage to get along.

How did you feel when you heard about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center?
I was living in Thaïland at the time. On that day my sister called me and told me to prepare as there was going to be a Third World War. That was also the feeling I had, I couldn’t believe it, I was totally shocked out of my mind, this was so unreal, it just was not possible (I watched on TV that plane crashing into this building over and over again...). New York smelt of decayed bodies for weeks after that... It was the end of a feeling of security as the US had never been attacked on its own territory before. It was a mixture of fear and shock.

Do you think it changed the New Yorkers’ way of life?
Definitely it did because the idea that they might have to undergo some massive attack by a foreign force on US soil was unbelievable (America was the “sacred land”). People are scared now and it was probably a lot more traumatizing for New Yorkers. This also transformed firemen into heroes for the population, and fear against Arabs increased which was different from the American ideal if you think about it... This resulted in drastically increasing security in airports. Unfortunately it can happen again...

What do you feel about the memorial?
I think this is a controversial memorial... It is good that there is one but I fear that it will only become a tourist attraction. We’re not going to remain traumatized, but this attack changed the way people see things. New Yorkers are pretty pragmatic, there is just one day free to commemorate all the wars (this is different from France). 

And what about the project of building a mosque near the memorial?
It is a good thing to build some place to pray near this area of tragedy but does it have to be that? I don’t know, I would have preferred maybe not something as controversial but maybe it is a good symbol of reconciliation (it was not an attack by Muslims but by dangerous fanatics...).

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