New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world. International travellers have a good chance of stumbling upon familiar sights, sounds and flavors from back home, while residents benefit from the multicultural offerings hidden in every borough.
Recent history has enabled this growing diversity of experience, encouraging every visitor and local to step outside of their comfort zones. From dancing to cuban music, watching a Norwegian film, or enjoying a pão de queijo in Little Brazil, the possibilities for discovery are endless.
New York has earned its proud ‘melting-pot’ status by embracing new communities of immigrants for over a century. In fact, New York has always had larger percentage of immigrants as part of its total population than the United States as a whole.
Two factors have made the city ideal for re-settlement: size and location. As the largest city on the Atlantic Coast, New York has been well-positioned to receive migrants from Europe and West Africa, as well as the rest of the world. And with five boroughs of thriving communities to choose from, finding the right fit has rarely proved difficult for new settlers.
Each borough has its own unique settlement history. The Irish settlers that came during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840’s largely settled in Manhattan, while German, Jewish and Italian immigrants of the early 20th century scattered across all of the five boroughs. Brooklyn and the Bronx were the popular destinations for African-American settlers, contributing to the Harlem Renaissance of art, literature and music in the early 1920’s. Asian migrants favored Queens, while the Bronx was the most popular destination for Hispanic communities.
Over the past one hundred years, the city’s total population has more than doubled, making it one of the most populous and most diverse cities on the map.
Experiencing the best of New York’s cultural melange is difficult to do in just one day. Here’s how the experts at WestHouse recommend you spend your International Day in the five boroughs:
Start your morning in Brooklyn with breakfast from the Damascus Bread & Pastry Shop, where you can find Syrian, Turkish and Middle Eastern pastries like pistachio or date mammouls, baklava and spinach and feta pies.
After breakfast, take the train into lower Manhattan to visit some of the best museums chronicling the city’s diverse history. Explore the interactive exhibits at The Museum of Chinese in America, peer into the preserved homes of 1863 immigrants at The Tenement Museum, or learn about the dynamic Ukrainian history at The Ukrainian Museum.
For a heartwarming treat, hop on the Staten Island Ferry from downtown and head across the harbor for lunch at Enoteca Maria, where every night a different grandmother, or ‘Nonna’, is head chef. Their rotating “Nonna calendar” features two kitchens: one that serves regional Italian cuisine from the grandmothers of Italy, and a second that highlights a different grandmother and her cuisine from any and every country in the world.
To work off lunch, head back towards Manhattan for an afternoon class at the Arte Capoeira Center, where the Brazilian dance-defense art form is celebrated. Afterwards, indulge in a snack of the popular cheese bread, or pão de queijo, at Galeria, or the addictive Brazilian mini-desserts at Brigadeiro Bakery.
To start off the evening, travel uptown to attend a Nordic Book Club or lecture on painter Edvard Munch at the Scandinavia House. You can also watch one of the few films they screen throughout the year, and if you visit in the fall be sure to catch the annual Nordic Film Festival, featuring the year’s best films and filmmakers from the region.
Queens is a great destination for the traveller in search of an international meal. You can grab a bite at one of the many Greek restaurants in the area like Ovelia or Taverna Kyclades, or feast on ramen at HinoMaru, po’boys and jambalaya at Sugar Freak, or warming pho at District Saigon.
To experience “el condado de la salsa”, or the borough of salsa, take the train uptown to the Bronx to see a show with the Bronx Arts Ensemble or stop for a cocktail at Salsa con Fuego, which hosts DJs and live music during the weekend. For a wider range of musical events, try An Beal Bocht for a traditional Irish pub experience or the Lehman Center for Performing Arts.