This morning I went to the East Village to visit the blast site where the three buildings burnt down to the ground. I knew this would be an emotional venture because these buildings were part of the background landscape of a neighborhood that is very close to my heart. It is a neighborhood that I consider, as home.
Although I never actually had a permanent residence in the East Village, I had room at my Aunt’s apartment that I stayed in each week since college. But this wasn’t just room and board. It was a place with a much deep connection because it was where my roots were laid.
The East Village is the first home that I ever knew. My parents used to rent an apartment on 5th Street in the same building where my Aunt still lives. I was baptized at Saint Georges Church on 7th street, just steps away from what is now just a pile of rubble. My ex-husband too, was christened at Saint George’s and decades later we would be married in that church, just as our parents before us. There is tremendous personal history here.
Much of my family still lives in the East Village. And on nights when the weather is warm, I would see mom’s two older sisters going for their evening stroll – they are as much of a part of the scenery, as the buildings themselves. The East Village is still one place in New York City where you know many of your neighbors and you couldn’t walk two blocks without bumping into someone you know.
Many Ukrainians settled in the East Village when they first arrived in this country with basically the clothes on their backs and whatever small possessions they were able to carry, as the fled their war-torn homeland. Once known as the Ukrainian Ghetto for its poor inhabitants and slums, the East Village is now a flourishing neighborhood. And not only has the area thrived, but the Ukrainian community that came here with almost nothing has persevered.
There are many buildings in the East Village that are Ukrainian owned. To me that is a sign of a people that have thrived and prospered. Ukrainians are hard-working with a tenacious spirit and tremendous resolve. And through the decades they have banded together; worked hard, educated their children and created a better life for themselves. They have truly captured the American Dream.