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Have you ever been to the Bronx?

| Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Jeffrey Murphy’s recent column for The Observer, entitled “The statistics on Dreamers are a nightmare,” sparked a controversy at Notre Dame. A number of columns in response to his have already been published. Most have criticized Murphy’s sources and his use of statistics. These columns have, in turn, cited their own sources and statistics. This research and these debates are of great value. But, truthfully, I don’t know enough about it — and I certainly don’t understand all of it. Perhaps enough has been said of recent in The Observer on DACA and immigration. But I’m going to make a different argument, one about the northernmost borough of New York City.

Have you ever been to the Bronx? I know you’ve been to Manhattan; I’m not here to talk about Manhattan. Have you been to Yankee Stadium, or the Bronx Zoo? Have you toured Fordham University? Did you ever take the four express train north from Grand Central? Because if you did any of these things, you’d wind up in the center of what I believe to be the greatest argument we have in favor of immigration.

You’ve probably heard it described as “dirty,” or a “tough neighborhood,” or in similarly dog-whistled criticisms that don’t do the borough justice. It’s true — the Bronx is not as polished as other parts of the city. But it is overflowing with character. The reason for this is that many of its 1.4 million citizens live in ethnic neighborhoods that retain the heritage and practices of their cultural homeland.

It’s most evident in the borough’s cuisine. If you go to Arthur Avenue, you will find perhaps the most authentically Italian-American neighborhood in the country, a collection of markets, pizza places and restaurants now owned by the grandchildren of early 20th century immigrants. My personal favorite is Enzo’s. There’s no menu, but I promise — whatever they decide to serve that day will be incredible.

Maybe you don’t like Italian food. That’s fine; the Bronx offers a taste of the entire globe. Rams Deli Plus on Fordham Road, owned by Yemeni-Americans, serves a famous chicken over rice dish. Liebman’s Deli in the North Bronx has been a borough institution for over 60 years, dishing out traditional Jewish delicatessen food that’s nearly good enough to make liverwurst sound like something you’d order.

It doesn’t end there. Scores of ethnic neighborhoods line the streets of the Bronx. Ghanaian, Korean, Albanian and Dominican communities are just some of the many enclaves that form the borough, a collection of localities with their own identities, practices and cuisines that unite to form an identity that is at the same time decidedly American. The Bronx is full of possibility — for food and for everything else. It is a place where anyone can find what they are looking for, where anyone can find a place to call home.

I said I wasn’t here to talk about Manhattan. But what about just off its coast, 15 miles south of the Bronx — have you ever been to the Statue of Liberty? I know you’ve read the poem. It says:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

There’s nothing there about quotas. It doesn’t say anything about whether we can afford it or not. I don’t care if we can afford it. America, above all else, is about personal responsibility. It’s about a belief in the agency and ability of individuals to forge their own destiny, to create a world better than the one handed down to them. And anyone — anyone — who leaves their home for a foreign country in search of a new life, is more American than we could ever hope to be. It is this spirit that the Bronx and countless other immigrant communities so perfectly exemplify. This country is better when it is new. Shutting the door would be to lose our greatest strength.

America isn’t statistics. And it’s not peanut butter and jelly on white, either. No, it is much more exciting than that. It’s potato gnocchi. It’s fried plantains. It’s yucca and goat curry and pastrami. It’s everything from everywhere coming together to form a symphony of culture. It is mutation. It is amalgamation. It is the Bronx.

Patrick McKelvey splits his time between being a college junior and a grumpy old man. A New Jersey native and American Studies major, he plans on pursuing a legal career after graduating Notre Dame. If you can’t find him at the movies, he can be reached for comment at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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