La Migracion Es Beautiful

My wife and I were walking down 116th Street this past Saturday on our way towards Target and ALDI. Between 3rd and 2nd Avenues we noticed a group of people painting a mural on a wall, so we crossed to take a better look.

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The mural primarily addresses U.S. immigration policy and seems to be an expression of the idea that “we are all immigrants.” One of the installations under the “Galerie De Guerrilla Gallery” section of the mural is a mirror with the word “Immigrant” in English under it. Another section of the mural shows a set of butterfly wings with the caption “La Migracion Es Beautiful” (Immigration is Beautiful). The point seems to be to remind English speakers that they are also immigrants while reminding immigrants that they are beautiful parts of a local immigrant society.

La Immigracion Es Beautiful

Maybe the mural isn’t about how we’re all immigrants, though. The butterfly wings contain pictures of a wide range of people, but almost exclusively depict Hispanics and African Americans, interspersed with what appears to be a few South Asian Muslims and Native Americans. One of the larger panels shows a Native American woman lying down by a river with teepees in the background next to a quote from an Ogala Lakota Native American. A section of the mural shows the face of an African American woman wearing an Indian feather in her hair.

It seems odd to include Native Americans and African Americans in a mural about how we are all immigrants. The Native Americans were the first people on the land. You can’t immigrate into a place that doesn’t have people in it before you arrive. And, unlike Ben Carson, I would hardly consider the enslavement and forced migration of Africans to be an act of immigration.

Maybe my first impression was wrong. Maybe the message isn’t about inclusivity but is rather about a unified confrontation between minority groups and those viewed as Caucasian. If that’s the case, the mural is eye-catching but is a missed opportunity for emphasizing shared belonging in the national community. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking the artists’ use of the word “immigrant.” Maybe the message of the mural is just protesting in general all of the morally reprehensible things that Trump (and the Republican party) has said and done without explicitly naming him. That would explain the quote by the Lakota Native American about the destruction of the environment. That, along with the slogan “El agua es vida” (Water is life) would be a reference to Standing Rock and DAPL. The inclusion of African Americans would be a reference perhaps to Trump calling for the death penalty for the wrongly accused Central Park Five. The inclusion of Hispanics and Muslims would be a reference to Trump’s constant vitriolic rhetoric and jingoism about Mexicans and Executive Orders that target Muslims.

Either way, immigration is a beautiful thing. Beyond the economic necessity of continued immigration, the diversity that immigrants bring to American life is what makes this country an amazing place to live, at least in major cities and on the coasts. I believe that intellectual and spiritual progress (and lofty goals like world peace) are dependent on having our comfort zones challenged. Encountering and understanding people from other parts of the world forces us to reevaluate and adjust our ideas and beliefs, both about others and about ourselves. I think that only happens when you’re forced to personally confront difference, in person. A book can only explain so much and never requires you to actually self-examine and defend your point of view. I also don’t see anything intrinsically worthwhile in resisting change or trying to hold onto an idealized vision of America that never existed in the first place.

Coney Island and Night of Horrors (Weekend before Sandy)

This post is long delayed. I meant to write it up and publish it on Monday, October 29th, but that night was the night Sandy flooded Lower Manhattan and caused our power to go out. By the time we got our electricity and internet back, I was scrambling to catch up on papers that needed to be written, reading for class (I use eBooks as much as possible) and generally in just getting life back into a rhythm. You know how it goes. Grocery shopping. Cleaning. Chores. Things just don’t do themselves, and when you spend all of your time trying to do the essentials, like finding food and water, things start to pile up. I really feel bad for the people that still don’t have power, even now.  But, that’s a story for another post.

A View of Coney Island from the Q Train
A View of Coney Island from the Q Train

On the Saturday of the last weekend of October, my wife and I went to see the “Nights of Horror” event at Coney Island’s Luna Park. The attractions seemed to be themed primarily for teens, but we had a great time anyway. We walked around the neighborhood, looked at the boardwalk, rode some rides, and walked through the two mazes. I wonder how torn up this place was after the storm?

Poster for Coney Island's Nights of Horror
Poster for Coney Island’s Nights of Horror

Right after getting off the Q train, we saw this mural:

Wall Mural by Coney Island Train Station 1

Wall Mural by Coney Island Train Station 3

Wall Mural by Coney Island Train Station 4

Wall Mural by Coney Island Train Station 7

I thought it was really surreal and cool so I took some photos of it and then enhanced the colors.  At the time I was taking the photos, I jokingly told my wife, “Just in case it gets washed away by the hurricane.”  I wonder if it’s still intact?  (Pictures of the rest of the mural is in the gallery at the bottom of the post.)

After having a junk food meal at McDonald’s, we walked down to the boardwalk to look around. I think I’d been there before, as a kid, but it’s been so long that I can’t be sure anymore. It was nice.

Nathan's on the Boardwalk
Nathan’s on the Boardwalk
A pier stretching out into the ocean from Coney Island's boardwalk area.
A pier stretching out into the ocean from Coney Island’s boardwalk area.

I’d like to go back and have a look around next summer. Hopefully by then the damage done to the area will have been repaired.

Car fatality at Luna Park Night of Horrors Entrance
Car ‘fatality’ at Luna Park Night of Horrors Entrance
Creepy Dead Chick With A Baby
Creepy Dead Chick With A Baby

Luna Park itself was done up pretty well. My favorite part of the whole themed event was the fact that they’d hired people to walk around in scary costumes and randomly scare people who weren’t paying attention. For example, they might get up behind you in line and lean in real close, and then scare you when you turned and found them right in your face. Or, you might be looking at a ride up in the air, and when you looked down, there’d be a person in costume standing right in front of you, staring at you. It was good fun.

Car coming down the track on The Tickler.
Car coming down the track on The Tickler.

The rides were good. We only went on a few, both because we were running out of time and because we just didn’t have the guts to get on some of them. There was one where you rode in a thing that looked like an airplane. The whole ride was spinning and each airplane-car was also spinning on an arm that took the plane into sort of a barrel roll. We took it easy. We stuck with the Tickler, a roller-coaster that spins like  a top while going down the track, and the swing that takes you way up and spins you around real fast. We also rode a thing that was like a giant surfboard that went back and forth like it was on waves, while also spinning in circles. That one was sort of relaxing.

I made the mistake of forgetting to take my hat off while we were riding The Tickler. There’s one long drop on it and after exiting the ride and looking, I saw that my hat was one among many laying on the rocks below the tracks. I talked to a few employees, all of which said they couldn’t do anything about it and told me to talk to someone else. I was beginning to feel like I was going to have to leave my hat behind, but it was frustrating because it was just out of arm’s reach. My wife got tired of me being a punk and just grabbed a nearby broom, hooked my hat and gave it back to me. Maybe I’m too conditioned to follow the rules?  Maybe it’s a leftover from my military days.

The entrance to one of the haunted mazes.
The entrance to one of the haunted mazes. I can’t remember its name.
The 'gatekeeper' to the funhouse/haunted maze.
The ‘gatekeeper’ to the funhouse/haunted maze.

None of the rides seemed particularly Halloween-themed, but there were two Halloween mazes. One was called the Cudie Farm. I can’t remember what the other one was called, but they were both set up in a similar fashion and both were a lot of fun to walk through. My wife was a lot more startled than I was, but I think she was just enjoying the moment. More than anything, I was interesting in how well done the costume makeup was on the employees, given the scale of the park.

The original Nathan's Famous at Surf and Stillwell Avenues.
The original Nathan’s Famous at Surf and Stillwell Avenues.

When we finished going through the mazes, we decided it was time to leave, but no trip to Coney Island would be complete without stopping in at Nathan’s Famous (the original Nathan’s) on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. I was tempted by seafood dishes, but I decided to get what Nathan’s is Famous for: the all beef hot dog. So, I got my chili cheese dog; my wife got her chili dog, and we stood there in the street watching the people while enjoying the good food. It wasn’t boring. A man dressed like a gay stripper Super Mario walked by.

Shore Theater. The sign was damaged the following Monday by Hurricane Sandy.
Shore Theater. The sign was damaged the following Monday by Hurricane Sandy.
Coney Island Train Station
Coney Island Train Station

But, then it was time to go home. Back to Manhattan. It felt disappointing. There was something comfortable about Coney Island. Maybe it was the lack of tall buildings. Maybe it was the atmosphere. Everything there felt more relaxed. We thought about how nice it would be to live in that area. Of course, we don’t think it would be that great to live there now, considering the recent catastrophe, but the place just has a really good vibe to it that I can’t describe. It’s casual in the way the Metropolitan Museum of Art isn’t. We’re really looking forward to going back.

The following gallery includes additional images of Coney Island and Luna Park: