New Jersey. Ever been?
If you haven’t, that’s okay — most only go to the airports. Heck, I was one of those too. Newark International Airport is so close to Manhattan, when I lived in The City, I used to fly out of Newark a lot — more often than I can remember. I’ve only been through the actual city of Newark once, only because I was lost. It was around 2003 when I just moved to the East Coast from California, and I still remember the sad sights, the racial slurs, and how terrified I was. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could and never ever return.
Along with my Newark trauma, it took almost a year to adjust to East Coast life. You see, I was guilty of living in the California bubble — for a lack of a better term — and realized how rainbows and butterflies California is after I lived out of state. I rarely experienced racial divide. I am Asian (Japanese), and in California —especially in the SF Bay Area— blatant racism is non existent. People never outright called me names until I got to the East Coast. Why people thought it was ok to say “go back where you came from” or call me derogatory names was beyond me. I couldn’t understand why strangers hated me so much.
Another huge adjustment was witnessing socio-economic divides on a daily basis. In California, our cities are separated —or shall I say segregated— and the socio-economic lines are rarely blurred. Ghetto? What ghetto? Oh, urban areas I mean; don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by being politically incorrect.
I was raised in a wealthy area and my friends and I were taught to stay within our city and area limits. Everyone abided except me. I’ve spent time in Hunter’s Point, EPA, and the Mission — areas that are predominately Black, Mexican, Samoan or Tongan, and was never afraid of walking down the streets. Scared, maybe, but never afraid. On the East Coast, there are parts where I am terrified of my well being (i.e. deep in Brooklyn or New Jersey.) The more states I visit, the more I realize California is a very special place
So coming from that, the cross country move was a huge adjustment and the East Coast felt like a whole ‘nother world. I was baffled, angry, then frustrated by clearly affluent people turning blind eyes to their surroundings. I went through a phase of yelling my disgust at the limos and town cars (in my head) shuttling privileged people who only care about themselves and their personal wealth. Granted, it’s not their faults, as capitalism is what our country is built on but I just couldnt help but wonder: Wtf is wrong with you? Our country is falling apart, why aren’t you helping to fix it? Why don’t you care? To me, the ignorance is equivalent to flipping off our country, everything it stands for and inadvertently disrespecting what our ForeFathers fought for: Freedom. Liberty. And justice for all. Then after I adjusted to life on the East Coast, my anger turned into sadness. I couldn’t and still can’t understand why so many people simply do not care.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh. New Jersey.
Wow. New Jersey. Where do I even begin? After my first encounter with Newark, I’ve been back to various cities for several reasons. Nothing prepared me for the sights of Camden, Trenton, Jersey City (the otherside of the Turnpike) and Newark. Don’t get it twisted, I have seen my share of the ghetto. I’ve been to the heart of Baltimore MD. You know, The Wire? Have friends residing deep in predominately Black areas of Brooklyn, where the only Asian person runs the local Chinese restaurant behind bullet proof windows. I’ve been down South — New Orleans, South Carolina, and a few other states, as well as Detroit — like the hood of Detroit. Even after all of my visits to different parts of the country, New Jersey, is the only state I never want to return to.
Am I making you uncomfortable? Are you judging me? Do you think I am being dramatic? Well, take a look at those cities in Google Image Search. Here we have Camden, Trenton and Newark – photos don’t lie. I haven’t stepped foot back in those three cities since 2005ish and the images are still burnt in my mind.
The cities (outside of downtown) were mostly flat, and rundown buildings were stretched for miles on out. When I close my eyes and picture the streets, I still get overwhelmed by the sadness and helplessness — almost like claustrophobia from the thought of being stuck, as the same questions circle in my head: How is it okay the streets are scattered with broken glass, flat tires, garbage, and…filth. Why do the citizens hate me so much they think it is ok to call me racist names? And what about the children? Do the kids know there is a whole world, just waiting to be explored by them? That they can achieve anything they put their minds to?? How do the residents…find hope?
On and on the questions continue and it is frustrating how there are no answers. So it’s not really New Jersey I don’t like. It’s our people, our government, and the state of this country that I really don’t like. And the worst part, is that I don’t know how to make it better.