Hiraeth

I’ve been living under a rock for roughly the past year and half; so, I recently found out that Donald Trump decided that he wasn’t hated enough as a New York City landlord, so he decided to run for President of the United States and, upon entering office, temporarily suspend immigration from several countries. When I had to write my column this week, President Trump’s executive orders made me wonder about the flow of people in and out of New York and why they decide to move.

First, New York has always been the immigrant capital of the US, especially the East Coast. Before Ellis Island closed in the 1950’s, immigrants came to the East Coast and stayed here. Generally, people of the same nationality settled in similar neighborhoods. Even after Ellis Island closed, the neighborhoods remained, so newer immigrants naturally moved to these neighborhoods. This is why in every census since 1950, aside from 1970, over a fifth of the city’s population was foreign-born. It makes me wonder, why did the city’s population only grow about 4.6% over the last five years?

The short answer is that natives are moving out. New York State has the worst domestic migration statistics, as over 377,000 people moved from New York to another state. That’s 95,000 more than the number of people who moved into New York from another state. The top destinations for those 377,000 people were Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Migration to and from New Jersey is to be expected, as Northern and Central New Jersey are part of the tristate area, and Texas and Florida are the two fastest-growing states in terms of domestic migration. So, what’s so special about Pennsylvania?

The answer can actually be summed up with a Welsh word, hiraeth. Hiraeth is the homesickness or longing for the past, sometimes for a past that never was. Many of the old-timers in New York have seen their neighborhoods completely redone – the staples have been replaced by chains, their parent’s apartment buildings have been destroyed or turned into developments where the rent is thousands and thousands of dollars per month, some of the really old people still miss the Els – elevated subways in Manhattan. Obviously this isn’t true everywhere, there are still some reasonable places to live, and some staples, such as Peter Pan Donuts and Katz’s Deli are still around. Still, Pete Hamill, who is largely my inspiration for this column, wrote about how much New York has changed in his life in Downtown. He called New York “the nostalgia capital of the world”, and hiraeth is often nostalgia for younger generations. We haven’t experienced old New York, at least not for long enough to really remember it, so we often long for a past that never actually existed. What does this have to do with Pennsylvania? Philadelphia hasn’t changed nearly as much as New York. Most of Philadelphia outside of Center City is either working class or poor, the staple cheesesteak places are still there, 30th Street Station is largely Penn Station’s little brother, and it has many of the same problems New York had 30 years ago. Add in Philly’s proximity to friends staying in New York, and it’s quite easy to see why it’s such an attractive city for New Yorkers experiencing hiraeth.

So, I’m not going to recommend a particular place in New York this week, I simply saw this as an opportunity to make an important point about human nature. Hiraeth is real, and it happens because we long for the best of the past. Everyone misses Penn Station and Carnegie Deli, even those of us who never set foot in either, so we long for the days of those things in general. We forget how dirty and dangerous the city was back then, and we take for granted everything that’s been built since then. Outside of New York, hiraeth is also what makes people write on *the internet* that they were born in the wrong century and why “Make America Great Again” can actually be an effective campaign slogan on the surface. We need to remember that even if we could chose any 70 or so years from human history to live in, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.

On an unrelated note, only the Giants can defeat the Patriots.