I Am New York

Portrait Series by Photographer Claudia Janke

198 New Yorkers – 198 Countries

New York City is known for its energy, culture, arts and fashion, the influence it has in the field of commerce and finance but what makes the city truly unique are its residents and the cultural diversity they bring to America’s most populous city. People from around the globe arrive here every day to live and experience the American dream first hand, adding to its multicultural identity.

Immigration has played a major part in the city’s rich history and development since the very start, when Henry Hudson landed on its shores 400 years ago. But how multi- cultural is New York? How many different countries are represented amongst New York’s residents, what brought them here and what does their New York look like?

I Am New York is an exploration of the city’s diversity and multicultural identity by photojournalist Claudia Janke. The aim is to find, photograph and interview one New Yorker from each country in the world, to create a powerful and engaging audiovisual exhibition and website.

Please get in touch for more information or answer the questions below and send them to iamnewyork@claudiajanke.com. As the series is at the very start any country is needed. It is important for the project that you are a permanent New York resident and that you remember your life in the country of origin. You then will be contacted and your answers will be recorded and your portrait taken. The images and interviews will be initially posted on this blog but will also be part of a book and exhibition in New York. Thanks for taking part.

The questions: (please answer the question in full sentences)

  1. What’s your name, age, occupation and country of origin? Where do you live in NYC and how long have you been here?
  2. Why did you decide to move to the US rather than any other country? When did you move and how old were you?
  3. Describe your life in your country of origin, where did you live, what did you do? Did you live in a village, city etc.? 
  4. Why did you choose to settle in New York? What is it like to live here and makes it special to you?
  5. Do you own anything that you brought from your home country to remind you of it?
  6. What do you miss most about home and why?
  7. What are the main differences between the American and your own culture?
  8. Where do you feel is home?
  9. What does it mean to you to be able to live here? What difference has it made to your life?
  10. Do you feel part of New York?
  11. If you could change one thing about it, what would it be and why?
  12. Where’s your favourite place in New York?

To receive updates for I Am New York  please subscribe to the Mailing List or  get in touch via email iamnewyork@claudiajanke.com

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Germany

Christian, 35 – Brooklyn

My name is Christian Jaquet, I am 36 years old and I am German. I am Graphic Designer. I live in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. I started working in New York in 2000 and fully moved here in 2002.

I grew up in a small town in Northern Germany right between Hamburg and the Danish border. Northern Germany is very unlike anything people might expect from Germany. There are no Lederhosen or big beer mugs, just a lot of rain and wet cold. I actually liked growing up there, and I never really thought of moving away. I never made a decision to just pack up and go.

Looking back now, there were a couple of things that I miss here. One of them was to be a little more secluded. I lived close enough to Hamburg to experience a big city vibe, but it was nice to go back to a small town and have time to digest the information and impressions of the city. This was all before the internet, and a good magazine or design book could stimulate my creativity for days. Now I feel overwhelmed with information overflow. I spend so much more time trying figure out which ideas are worth pursuing and which to dump, instead of actually working on them.

I also miss the German thoroughness. There is so much fluff and show here in the USA, with so little substance. Whoever screams the loudest, gets the most attention. Humbleness almost seems to be a weakness here.

After graduating from Design School I started working as an intern for Zoo York, at that time a very influential skate and streetwear label. I was 24 and it really was my dream job. The internship turned quickly into a full contract and I ended up working there as an Art Director. After that I moved on to other jobs in the apparel industry. I never really moved here, I just ended up living here.

For the first years I lived out of the bag. I remember being able to move apartments with one subway trip and maybe a friend, helping to carry a bag. All my belongings fitted in three bags and a couple of milk crates. It was only after I met my wife and us moving in together that I started to settle in.

I have only a few things that I brought over. Some pictures, but mostly books. But I notice that I am picking up certain routines and rituals that I grew up with in Germany. When I get homesick I end up at the “Loreley”, a German Biergarten on the Lower Eastside. The “Loreley” offers a lot of good German comfort food and unlike most other German restaurants its not a Bavarian themed tourist trap.

My home is here in Brooklyn. I can imagine moving back to Germany at some point, but right now my place is here.

I ended up in New York only because of my job. I can’t even see myself anywhere else in the US. New York has such special vibe. I never felt as a stranger here, it was almost like the city had been waiting for me to show up.

New York is always what you make of it. Depending on where you go you can get anything from a small village style communities in Brooklyn to the tourist wonderland of Times Square. Where else in can you go to the beach on the subway?

The best thing about New York is the endless range of options. Starting with basic stuff like food. You can find any food at any price range. Or entertainment, there are so many things to do. It’s actually easy to forget how much you can do here. And a lot of it is for free.

New Yorkers are very pragmatic. I don’t think they are rude, they are just efficient. Most of them are actually very respectful. Even during rush hour, when everybody is cramped into a subway car, people are trying stay clear of each other. Of course, there are always some exceptions.

The competition in New York is unforgiving. There will always be someone who will work harder for less money. It’s a constant rat race. Employers and clients know that and many of them take advantage of the situation. Things that Europeans take for granted, like education, affordable health insurance or child care are only available at a very high price here. There is no real worker protection and the unions seem to be a far cry from what they were meant to be.

I love the Brooklyn waterfront. There is such an exciting mix between residential and old industrial structures. The waterfront from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge had a long history of warehousing, shipbuilding and all sorts of manufacturing. The workers and their families lived close by. But container shipping killed most of these jobs in the early 70’s and these neighborhoods turned into abandoned and crime ridden wastelands.

I think that, because I am a foreigner I see things that the somebody who grew up here doesn’t even notice anymore. Sometimes I research certain buildings. A lot of them are not even pretty or have no chance of getting landmark protection. Often you come across economically tragic stories. Like businesses that have been innovative and done well for decades all of a sudden going bankrupt, because somebody discovers that something in their products is toxic. You can still see that these were vibrant neighborhoods with their own little, village like microcosmos. Almost every block had a corner store and a local bar, but these storefronts have been converted to make-shift apartments or they just sit vacant.

You can see the changes everywhere. A building that has been there for over a hundred years is all of a sudden gone. Williamsburg and Greenpoint went thru the typical cycles of gentrification. I am not against development, but I think that it is important to maintain the cultural heritage of a neighborhood. Neighborhoods need a healthy balance between room for people and room for business. And that is something that seems to be easily forgotten, when you see fancy glass towers with unaffordable apartments go up everywhere.

But then there will always be the forgotten block where you can discover an old building or a hidden garden that has been untouched by the development. Those are my favorite places.

Japan

Aya, 26 – Harlem

My name is Aya Tasaki and I’m a 26 year old, queer immigrant activist and grad school student. I’m from Japan. I currently live in Harlem and moved here in 2009 from Chicago.

My family always lived in the west part of Tokyo, a bit removed from the center of the city. (Imagine Brooklyn and Queens in relation to Manhattan) We also lived up north in Hokkaido for 2 years, a place that was much quieter and slower than Tokyo. I was always in a “student” role and experienced public elementary school, cram school, private girls’ junior high and an international school.

I moved around quite a bit since I was young because of my father’s job. My parents and I first moved to the States when I was 5, went back to Japan when I was 9, then back again to the States when I was a junior in high school. My parents moved back to Japan permanently when I started college and I have been here on my own ever since.

I actually just returned from visiting my family in Japan this past week. The purpose of my trip was to help clean out my grandparents’ house on my mother’s side and to move the family grave on my father’s side. I brought back the bell from the altar from my grandparents’ house as well as a number of rosary beads. My family is all originally from Hiroshima, and both of my grandmothers are survivors of the atomic bomb, so I have pictures and books that relate to that part as well.

This is the question that’s in progress. I’ve lived in NYC the shortest, but I feel it to be home. I have been on the long journey for my soul to reclaim Japan as my home as well.

Grad school brought me here, or I should say, I made sure that grad school bring me here. I’m a city person. I make deep connections fast, which is probably the result of me moving around a lot, and I enjoy putting the time into cultivating all of those relationships. NYC has allowed me to meet exceptional people who continue to inspire and constantly challenge me to discover myself.

The best thing about New York is that  there is a place to be everything you one to be, to embrace the fact that you are many things at once all in one person. It offers you the chance to embrace change. Oh, and let’s not forget the endless list of delicious food that is constantly waiting to be bit into.

The worst thing is that it’s a bubble that has many bubbles inside of it. Without effort, they are never realized nor merging.

The Hudson River bike path is my favorite place New York and the bridges, especially on cold crisp nights when I’m biking back up to Harlem.

Brazil

Karina, 30 – Brooklyn

My name is Karina Vieira. I’m a 30-year-old journalist. I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and have been in New York for the past ten years.

I came from Recife, on the northeastern coast of Brazil. I was a 20 year-old college student when I decided to come to NY back in 2001. At that time, I had no idea I’d never live in my hometown again.

I never know what to answer when people ask why I came here. I guess I was just a teenager that wanted to experience the city for some time. A more important question, I think, is why I decided to stay here all these years. But I never really made that decision. I just never found a good enough reason to move out. A while ago, when I told a Manhattanite that, at the same time, I’m constantly thinking about leaving, he said, “Of course you are. You’re New Yorker, my dear. Welcome to the club”.

In my living room, there’s a huge photo of an airplane hovering over my hometown. I got it through a friend whose bar in Recife has the same picture hanging on its wall. I wasn’t looking for something Brazil-related when I got it. I just think it’s a great photo.

Once I read that New York is a great apartment hotel in which everyone lives and no one is at home. I agreed with it until January 2005, when I landed at JFK after a month-long  trip to Brazil. It was a freezing cold morning and I didn’t want to be in NY at that time but I realized I was coming back home. It was sort of like an aha moment.

The best thing about New York is being walking-distance from amazing people and places. By that, I don’t mean world-class restaurants or best museums, although they’re a big part of it. The incredible amount of (good) options is what I praise the most.

The worst thing about it is to imagine that, the minute you move out , the city you know will no longer exist.  It will never forgive you for having left. The city- its people and its places- changes so much that, if I leave today and come back, say, five years from now, I will find very few things of the New York I know.

My favourite place in New York is my neighbourhood in Brooklyn. I moved nine times over the past decade and lived in five different neighbourhoods. Williamsburg is by far my favourite. It feels like a small village even though it’s one subway stop away from Manhattan.

 

Colombia

Rodrigo, 36 – Brooklyn

My name is Rodrigo Campos, I am a 36-year-old Colombian journalist. I’ve been in New York for more than six years and I currently live in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

I was born and raised in Bogota, where I used to share a two-bedroom with a roommate and work as an arts correspondent for a major daily newspaper. My parents and one of my brothers live there, my other brother lives in New Jersey.

I moved to New York in 2005, with a Masters in journalism as the best excuse I could find to leave a job that I loved but I knew was a dead end. I was 30 and I had lived in Bogota all my life.

I have a saxophone that I never play and which reminds me of a previous life back in Colombia, when I went to music school and played in a band that was famous for 15 minutes. I also brought with me some of my favorite books in Spanish.

Home is my Bushwick apartment, where I live with my wife Alanna.

I came for a week many years ago and was fascinated by the diversity and the cultural richness. Listening to random conversations in languages that I couldn’t place while riding the subway or just walking down the street was fascinating.

The best thing about New York is its diversity. It is quite easy to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds, economical and cultural. There’s no telling all you can learn from that.

The worst thing about New York is how marginalized poverty is here. Since it’s hard to imagine it, it receives very little attention.

My favorite place in New York is the terrace in my apartment. Absent that, anywhere I can see the East river, or the ocean.

Italy

Gabriele, 31 – Upper West Side

My name is Gabriele Cassia, I’m 31 and I’m from Italy. I live in the Upper West Side. Been here 2 years. I work as a freelance video editor.

I was 20 when I left Trieste city. My life was pretty much a question mark at that point. Recently I finished school and I was anxious to leave a mark on the world. I moved to London first when I was 20 in 2000, in search for excitement and adventure. That way I also avoided italian compulsory military service.

I get a regular supply of olive oil from my mother. Apart from that wherever I go I’m always surrounded by italians and italian stuff, it’s hard to feel homesick. Sometimes I wish I felt that way. Italians can be hard to get away from. New York City is the closest I get to a place I can call home.

I moved from London to New York City manly to try something new and in the hope that my career might get a boost. The city is very dynamic in that respect.

The best thing about New York is its people. I met some great people here, always trying to end on a high note so to speak, I like that, inspiring and positive. I lived eight years in London before moving here and I was somehow dissatisfied with sarcasm and cynicism. New Yorkers joke a lot about their cynicism but in reality I find them pretty optimistic andeven a little naive!

The worst thing about New York is …its people, sometimes you get to bump into some real assholes (especially on the subway) I never experience such lack of respect, disregard from other people and the like. These are surely people I have no interest in getting to know or hanging out with, so I cannot really say much about them. Sometime I wonder where they come from and how do they survive…

My favorite place in New York is Central Park, hands down. I cannot explain why the Park is so Beautiful, it just is! Try getting a book and sit by the pond. Let’s put it this way, living in a big city season don’t mean much more than a different outfit and several survival techniques: jumping from one A/C to the other during summer or waling on the sunny side of the street in winter. But the Park. It’s color changes (even during the day) there are fireflies in summer and in winter it gets covered with beautiful thick, white snow (meanwhile on the sidewalks snow quickly turn into grimy sludge).

I guess the park might just give us the chance to remember we are human and not simply working machines. Once I went jogging early in the morning (usually I go after work, around 7). I was utterly disoriented! The sunlight coming from the opposite direction, I did not recognize any of my usual spots. When you live in a metal box sunlight doesn’t really come into play.

Indonesia

Rita, 30 – Queens

My name is Rita Kurniawan, a 30 years old Indonesia born Administrator. I live in Queens and have been living in NYC for more than 4 years.

I grew up in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Jakarta is a big City, think NYC with a much denser population, more traffic -for having no viable transportation system and more pollution.  Growing up in an financially challenged family was not easy, I was lucky to be able to finish my education and obtained a job.

I decided to move abroad since I was very young. As I mentioned above, it was a bit challenging growing up with financial obstacles, therefore living and working abroad was considered as a means to get out of that situation.  When I was 26 years old -early 2007, I packed my bag and moved to US

I still have some things I brought from my home country, however having those items doesn’t really remind me of Indonesia, talking to my family and friends back home does.

I feel more homey in NYC. I don’t think I can live in Jakarta anymore.

I choose to settle in New York because I can’t drive, no lie. Now it’s special to me because of my friends, the fact that I can bike or walk everywhere, the existence of a “reliable” transportation system and the abundance of good cheap food.

The best thing about NY is there are plenty of free or cheap food and entertainment

I’m a bit ambivalent about the worst thing about NY, in one hand it can be the worst but in another hand, it can be the best. I feel that since we have a lot of people here and since everybody is always busy- even when they aren’t doing anything, people become disposable in some ways.  Jiffy superficial connection flourishes and relationship dissipates.

Gantry State Park will always have a special place in my heart. My best friend and I used to spend our Saturday there, walking around, talking about nothing and everything. Although, I also love the shore in Bay Ridge where I used to live with my ex. I think it’s the companion that makes one place special or chosen to be a favorite, not the place per se.