Today I am defending my dissertation. Or I will have defended by the time you read this post.
When I first started this blog, I was looking for an outlet to keep the creative side of my brain sharp and to keep an archive of my thoughts on different issues. But it was also a way to stay sane while dissertating and while looking for a job. needed something that would make me happy and restore my faith in my writing abilities. I knew that, once upon a time, writing had made me happy. What, at that moment, felt like an academic chore in the shape of a Microsoft Word document that I had to open up day in and day out, had once upon a time made me happy. And so I started this blog.
Now, I am done. Almost. My committee decides today whether I have earned the moniker PhD.
In the meantime, I wanted to share with you the last few paragraphs of my dissertation. I have a personal connection to my study (which brings about its own complications). My dissertation topic is as much about my staking my scholastic territory as it is about understanding my affinity for New York City, a city I remembered in bits and pieces when I left for Puerto Rico, a city that comes alive from the vestige of my memory every time I fly into La Guardia or drive along I-87 and see the sign “Welcome to the Bronx.” I know New York as it is now, but there will always be Another New York that lives on in my mind. Lastly, my dissertation is an offering to The City. Will it ever be enough? I will continue writing until I find out.
Wish me luck.
Throughout my graduate school career, I have been reading, researching, thinking, and writing about New York City in different contexts. The more I learned about New York City, the more I could talk about its history and society at length, the less I would have to explain to people why I felt like a New Yorker deep inside—at least this is what I believed. Deep down, I felt insecure about my status as a New Yorker because, outside of my family, I lacked the recognition from others of my identity as a New Yorker. When I finally had the chance my last semester of coursework to write a paper about representations of cityscapes in rap, I found the opportunity to take my inner musings to a scholarly level. I immersed myself in how this inherently urban genre talked about cities and the connection between these rap artists and their urban neighborhoods. I found in rap and hip hop an articulation of how I felt about New York City, and I channeled that into my subsequent work.
Therefore, part of this study has been not only a way to understand how others make New York City a home but also a way for me to understand why I think of it as my home. When I started writing, I set out to focus only on the works I had chosen. Nevertheless, as I wrote this dissertation I noticed the boundaries between public and private, between academic and personal turn blurry; I realized later that it was through the personal that I was able to find my way into this topic, and that I could not ignore that.
However, throughout my dissertation research I have realized the different dimensions of home. I have learned to listen to what New York City meant to Willie Perdomo, Ann Petry, Frank Espada. I opened up my analysis to how African Americans and Puerto Ricans can struggle to claim this city. I realized that New York was not always kind. New York was not always willing. Not all migrants wanted to claim New York City nor needed to claim New York City. If anything, this study made it clear to me that New York City, like any other text, is complex and multidimensional. My idealization has made way for recognition.
I no longer argue with people who do not think I am a New Yorker. I no longer feel offended if they do not take me for a New Yorker. But I always smile when they say I have a New York accent. I carry New York with me. I can only hope that this dissertation will lay to rest if not questions about my cultural identity at least my love for [and commitment to] the city that was my first home.