Column: The real deal on America

By Jon Monteith

While scanning Chuck Prochaska’s column about his recent trip through “Bush Country,” I had to double check to make sure he wasn’t describing the sets of Deliverance. Thankfully, my week off was spent in a part of the country where the Confederate flag is recognized for what it actually is – an emblem for unabashed white trash. I am proud to say that my spring break was spent in that wonderful island of blue we call New York City.

For an entire week, I was immersed in the spectacular cultural diversity that is America’s most populous city. Or, as Chuck so fondly put it in a past column (“Democrats don’t get it,” Nov. 2004), I finally got to hang out with the “freak shows on Fifth Avenue.” It was during this trip that I realized the “Real America” Chuck referred to in his column was not in Red State America, but right here in NYC.

I had always heard that New York was a cultural melting pot, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw as I drove with my friends through the various neighborhoods of the city. On the first street we reached in Brooklyn, we found ourselves in the middle of a large community of Hasidic Jews. Almost all of the men in this neighborhood could be recognized by their distinctive style of dress – full beards, hats and dark clothes. It was an unbelievable experience to see these individuals, who are a tiny subculture within an already modest Jewish minority, constitute an ethnic majority in this neighborhood.

One moment later, we were driving through a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. That night, we walked through the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy. As my cousin, a New York resident and unofficial tour guide during our trip, pointed out, New York City is a place where vastly different cultures live side-by-side in one giant multi-ethnic community.

The heartland causes many people to believe that we live in a white America – in many parts of this region, racial diversity means the shade of red on your neck. However, urban communities like New York represent the cross-section of diverse cultures that makes our country so great. This city symbolizes what has been observed throughout American history – we are a nation of immigrants, and that distinction brings with it a wide variety of cultures and personalities. What could be more “real” than that?

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    And while our red state lover might like to believe that religious faith, happy families and barbecues are unique to the heartland, New York City offers all of these things and more. Oh, there’s just one difference – while New York City has a history of roasting delicious hot dogs, Alabama has a history of roasting crosses.

    You see, there’s a reason New York is one of the bluest states in the country, and it has nothing to do with “urban hippies” or double vanilla lattes. It’s not as if the people of New York City are inherently more open-minded and tolerant – it’s about being exposed to different people and cultures and realizing that we are all a part of American society. Nashville simply cannot offer this cultural diversity, and so it’s not a big shock to find historically racist symbols like the Confederate flag being worn with pride. If that’s not “defiling the moral fabric of America,” I don’t know what is.

    If my comments about the heartland have offended Chuck or anyone else, let me explain that I had a purpose in mind – to show just how irritating it can be to read a column full of unjust implications about an entire segment of the country. It is insulting and inaccurate to reduce our nation’s urban communities to liberal playhouses. They are the best of what the United States has to offer in terms of cultural diversity, and for that reason, they are what “Real America” is all about.