Recounting the Ever-Changing Diversity of New York City

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What do Peter Minuit, Pieter Minuit, Pierre Minuit, and Peter Minnewit all have in common?

You guessed it! They’re all the same person, with spelling differences. Taking the first version, Peter Minuit, to be our variation, who here knows why he is famous? History may not have been everyone’s strongest suit (or maybe history plays favorites sometimes) in school, but Mr. Minuit allegedly bought what is now modern-day Manhattan Island from the local natives for the Dutch back in the 17th century for a mere handful of “trinkets” valued at around $24. $24! If he only had known what was to come almost three centuries later: a world-renowned community where the best and brightest flock from around the world, celebrating in some of the most cultural diversity on the planet. Here to bask in this diversity, join us as we take a look at some of the multicultural influence New York City has to offer today. Come on, get lost with us in the city that never sleeps!

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Way back when

As early as 1646 there were already eight European languages spoken in the new colony and probably just as many Native American ones as well. By the time the British captured and renamed it New York twenty years later, the population had already risen to 9,000 who inhabited six distinct areas.

As the island developed and became even more densely populated, neighborhoods rose and fell with every wave of migration. Dutch, English, German, Scottish, Irish, African, Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians, Chinese, Filipinos, Indians; some people came as convicts and slaves in chains, some to escape caste or religious persecution or, others who wanted to make their fortunes.They came to one of the five boroughs and sought out their own people, their own language, and stayed there until they were naturalized. New York City was the gateway to the US and all it entailed.

A little back then

There are traditional, even famous, European neighborhoods all over New York, but like most of the older places, Little Italy, Hell’s Kitchen, and Germantown were gentrified long ago, kept alive by tourists and films while neighborhoods like Bensonhurst (Italian), Brighton Beach (Russian, known as Little Odessa), and Greenpoint (Polish) all in Brooklyn, are very much alive and still growing.

African Americans have been part of New York since almost the beginning. Emancipated slaves settled around the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn as early as 1780 building the first African American churches, schools, and cemeteries in New York. The great migration North that followed the Civil War saw Harlem become a large majority African American settlement in the North while the first extensive subway system starting in the 1930’s opened the interior of Brooklyn and neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and Brownsville saw a population shift.  

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1. Manhattan 2. Brooklyn 3. Queens 4. The Bronx 5. Staten Island —- Photo via Wikimedia

Nowadays

It seems as though every city in the world has a Chinatown and New York is no exception. However, not every city has nine Asian enclaves spread out into three separate boroughs. Historic Chinatown in Manhattan has bucked every trend of gentrification, continuing to grow over the past twenty years, engulfing bits of all adjacent neighborhoods while maintaining the authenticity of open air markets and dim sum shops on every corner. Likewise though, Little Korea, Thai town, Little Manilla, and Tibet Row all cater to natives of those places as well New Yorkers with a yen for exotic fair, spicy markets, or home grown films from those far-off places.

The Indian population in New York, also, is very large and occupies areas called Curry Row, Curry Hill and, of course, Little India in Woodside and Queens where it’s easy to feel transported by the sounds and smells of Delhi. Just like on the map, Little Pakistan is just north of Little India but the single stop on the seven train covering just eight blocks is a much less problematic border. Sri Lankans on Staten Island represent the largest population outside of the country and maintain the holidays and customs of their homeland on that least of the five boroughs.

New York is home to many populations that out number the capital cities of their homeland. Puerto Ricans make up a major part of the city’s population at around 1.5 million and were once the majority ethnic group in the South Bronx and the only group to have a yearly parade sanctioned by the city. Latino neighborhoods are in every borough, from the majority Dominicans in Washington Heights to the Mexican-rich neighborhoods on the outskirts of Brooklyn and Queens. Today the Middle East and North Africa have become major sources of immigrants resulting in new neighborhoods like Little Senegal in the Bronx and New Casablanca in Queens.

It’s almost impossible to track and map ethnic clusters in a city like New York which maintains around a 40% immigrant population because the source of that immigration has changed from decade to decade, but one thing is for sure: the Big Apple was, has been, is, and will always be a place where diversity, culture, and difference will pervade.