Living in a great big melting pot

In December I was fortunate to visit New York City. I went to America with a somewhat 2D view of Americans, hardened by the Trump/Clinton debacle. I loathe their fixation on guns and the obscene gap between rich and poor Americans. But I returned with a more 3D perspective. So what changed?

Taking the subway is something I’d always wanted to try and to see the ‘steam’ rising out of the roads above it. What I did not expect were the acts of kindness witnessed in the subway. And I felt totally secure by night and day, a revolution in Gotham City started with Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s zero-tolerance crime policy of the 1990s. I came away with the impression that New Yorkers look after one another.

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Harlem. We’d arrived in the middle of a row between Airbnb and the State of New York over apartments being rented out to tourists while many New Yorkers cannot find anywhere to live. It echoes a similar debate in London and elsewhere in Britain.

I doubt I will ever forget visiting Ellis Island, near the southern tip of Manhattan, the immigration centre that received mainly European migrants from 1892 to 1954 and now a museum. In the UK, many gave up standing for the national anthem years ago, yet Americans revel in their citizenship. The flag is everywhere, raised and worn with pride, unlike anything I have seen elsewhere. It shapes their attitudes and underpins their inalienable freedoms, which has led to many extreme views.

Yes, extreme views. We hear these from afar but what we don’t see or understand is domestic American politics. Before I went, I did not understand how Americans reconcile their Democrat and Republican traditions. But observing and talking to New Yorkers I saw glimpses of how they resolve their differences, eventually, and live together in relative harmony. The Big Apple offers a working model for our melting pot world.

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