How did we get here?

Over the years, many of us had moved out of major U.S. cities; the very same ones that are now under attack. These cities will most likely never be the same as they were before buildings were vandalized and burned, monuments toppled, defaced and in some cases, desecrated. Neighborhoods are being destroyed. 

Crime is rampant. There are shootings and stabbings in the streets, in broad daylight. Vicious crime is indescribable to anyone with the least feelings possible as a growing number of thugs and gangs have exhibited no regard for human life. Drugs. Homelessness. Filth. And a lot of frightened citizens whose personal dreams are being shattered by the day.

New York City (mine), Chicago and others will be forever in our memories of growing up and visiting and sharing with our children. Yes, we had left for greener grass in Texas, others to Florida and Arizona, all of us to raise families and live better lives – but still our hearts belong to our hometown cities. And despite living elsewhere, in some way our loyalty remained to where we grew up or as many say, where we were from.

However, we visited often. It’s where our personal heritage began and the history of our parents and grandparents preceded as proud first-generation Italian, Irish, German, Jewish, Polish along with many other immigrant groups. Many were fortunate to have realized what was then referred to as the American Dream. I’m now thinking about how it is viewed differently today and certainly without the passion once tied to the dream.

This past week, my wife and I watched the series, The Offer. The series is about the making of the movie, The Godfather. The story was mesmerizing in its own right but as The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2 always does for me, it brings me back to the time of my grandparents and the many other immigrants that came to America. Although it was about Italians, Sicilians, and that’s my heritage, it could have been about any ethnic group.

My Dad was born in 1916 to immigrant parents in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a point of reference, the opening scene of The Godfather Part 2 was 1916 in that very neighborhood of Manhattan. That’s exactly where he was born and raised. What a visual! It always makes me think about my dad’s life back then and what he saw and lived through, as so many did, as well. I think about the same for all my relatives, as well as for the relatives of many of my friends and classmates growing up.

The American Dream was real. It was about hope for a better life for each person and their families. It was built around cities, melting pots of many people living together, amongst each other. The conditions were certainly less than ideal. Sure, there was crime and violence but ultimately, all living there remained committed to improving their lives and they worked extremely hard at doing so.

Improvements were made in the neighborhoods. New buildings were mixed in with the old. Churches, schools, department stores and the like popped up everywhere. Small mom & pop businesses flourished, enabling parents to put their children through college – another part of The American Dream and the list went on and on – business ownership, home ownership, car ownership sprinkled in with values, care, and respect.

And then, like me and many within my family, we did what our ancestors did and moved elsewhere in search of something better for us and our families. Do I regret it? No, I don’t regret it, but I do miss what once was as I was growing up – close-knit neighborhoods, tight communities of friends and families, families living close enough to visit every Sunday. I miss traditions associated with all of it including church bazaars, neighborhood festivals and Christmas on 5th Avenue, just to name a few.

Yes, I miss it all. However, visiting often had kept the spirit burning for me. I loved that my children got to see and experience it. They loved hearing the stories. They loved the food. They loved the heartbeat of the city – of New York City. And that, in a nutshell is what is being ripped from these cities today – their heartbeats. As their pulse continues to disappear, slow and painful death is imminent. I’m wondering, how did we get here?

These cities will always be part of who we are but sadly the thought (and joy) of returning for a visit has been overshadowed by the decay of these once majestic cities. They’re fast losing steam as once popular cities for conferences and trade shows, so even business trips to these cities have diminished. It’s hard to believe that cities with populations of millions of people have essentially become like ‘ghost towns’ to those of us that have lived there before. There’s a feeling of emptiness that is hard to describe, but definitely felt as real.

Fond memories are fading, and for that I weep and especially for what has been stolen from me, my family, and for future generations who will only be able to read about America’s once great cities. That is, until someone or some group decides to permanently remove these cities’ history from the books, claiming their existence disgracefully represented something more than the foundation (and battleground) of the first example of the American Dream.

Have a great day (and weekend). Make it happen. Make it count!