My wife became a naturalized New Yorker on Saturday. The ceremony was private, a little silly, and created earlier that afternoon.
She grew up in New Jersey but has lived here since college, always a little sensitive to friends sneering she’s not a real New Yorker. As a native of Brooklyn, I officiated in our apartment.
The reason for the proceeding was mostly to give us something to do in the age of social distancing. She answered questions about City Island and Abe Beame half correctly; we ordered pizza and watched “Moonstruck” to round out the night. But there was also the true sense that New York City is once again going through a dark hour, and as we live here through it she is a New Yorker now.
To this point, I asked her to read aloud the E.B. White quote about the three New Yorks, the one of the native, the commuter, and the transplant.
The commuters bring “tidal restlessness,” the natives “solidity and continuity,” and the newcomers, importantly: “passion.”
New Yorkers scoff a lot about the newcomers not being real New Yorkers and sometimes making it worse here for everyone else, driving up prices and just, you know, not getting it. There was a news cycle about a million years ago in January in which Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told the gentrifiers to go back to Iowa. But at least some of the New York vibe comes from the zeal of the converts, the people who always, always arrive.
We ate our pizza and I wore a gaudy Brooklyn bike jersey and she gave a correct answer to what comes next in the pattern 59, 42, 34, 14. It was a day off for us. It wasn’t for others. Elsewhere New Yorkers were working in hospitals and grocery stores. They were driving ambulances under sirens, and bagging up soup cans and pasta wearing gloves. They put on masks and uniforms of one form or another. They walked in parks and on sidewalks, they sold to-go cocktails out of bougie bar-front windows, they displayed hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies on Fulton Street. Where do these New Yorkers come from? All the places in the universe. They were born here, in one of the city hospitals now overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, scenes now of chaos, courage and tested competence. They commute to work from Nassau and Suffolk counties or even that foreign country New Jersey because they are police officers or firefighters or nurses or subway cleaners, union members and contract workers, those providing for families and those who live here or elsewhere all alone. Some of these New Yorkers are not American citizens or have recently become one. For them, a citizenship test and ceremony is much more real than an evening’s activity to take minds off other things.
They and their fellow newcomers are welcome and always have been, New Yorkers through and through. Now and when this is all over, they will come here still.
Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday's editorial board and host of the "Life Under Coronavirus" podcast.