Copyright Leon Cato Photography 2016

Safety in the Shadows

11:02pm and all is well

The hour is late by some measures. I am in the Bronx having left Mt Vernon almost exactly an hour ago. I feel the embrace of my people. I look at folk on this train and individually none of them would necessarily hang with me — but none of them are fucking with me either.

Yes, I could make a wrong step, get caught slippin’ and all that, or run into some young fuck-the-world types and it could all be very real in an instant. But I don’t feel any of that. I feel at ease with a default vigilance. I didn’t feel that ease while journeying through the white areas, most certainly not through the Brazilian enclave — for their version of not fucking with me is one of unmistakeable exclusion. But as I approached White Plains Road and walked through the Jamaican quarter, then boarded the black and Puerto Rican express at 241 Street station, it felt right. Right enough for me to reflect on other things as the train jostled the passengers and rattled through an elevate track towards Harlem and midtown Manhattan.

I will pass through three boroughs to get home to Queens, about 10 different ethnic neighbourhoods. See that’s how New York is, block-to-block, street-to-street, you enter completely different worlds. I walked less than a mile and heard Pop, Salsa, Brazilian, Hip Hop and Reggae music coming from porches, local hangouts, restaurants, bars, street radios and cars. What about the neighbours I always think — doesn’t the noise drive them nuts at this hour? But its Summer in New York and there is one truth that all must understand. Everyone is here. And everyone is present. No one is hiding. No one is ashamed. See in NY you live free. As free as your respective ethnic enclave permits, where you can shout, laugh, cry and dance as loudly and as freely as the elders and gossiping neighbour will allow. In NYC, you walk from street-t0-street until your version of freedom presents itself, until you find your people — almost like walking down a long hallway and knocking on each door until one flies open and everyone screams with excitement at your arrival. Suddenly the locked and bolted doors, those “you are not welcomed here” sections along the way, are gone forever as your sense of belonging is completely fulfilled.

Yes, in New York you are free. As free as your pockets and the NYPD allow. As free as that look you get when walking in the upper east side, or along Park Avenue. As free as having your receipt checked and credit card questioned when shopping at Barney’s or the feeling of invisibility when walking through the new Lower East Side, Flatbush, Harlem or Williamsburg. Your persona non grata status has already been formed you see, like a cast iron mould. Its ok to ignore it, pretend as if this is not your destiny. That you have the upbringing, heritage, education and life experience to ensure that you do not end up cast aside. That your people — people like you of course, you know the well-educated types — have an equal place, can exist in a world that doesn’t think twice about your complexion, hair, walk or “attitude” rather celebrates it as a variation of the oh-so-boring norm. A necessary element that fortifies humanity and makes it all so damned interesting. Fuck flavor, spice or all that condescending shit. Rather a requisite piece of the overall human construct. We are not meant to be homogenous, rather enjoy the entirety of our kind. For there is far, far too much geography to see, food to taste, music to hear, politics to debate, culture to appreciate; far too many people to meet, connections to make and anger, fear, laughter, tears, love and understanding to experience for a thousand lifetimes.

But at this moment, in the world’s most global city where you can be loved, respected, fear and hated all within a one-mile walk I revel in the freedom that exists within the silent embrace of the people who understand me. Who don’t look at me twice but with their very existence welcome me — for we share the same experience in this region called The West. With a slight glance or nod we are undoubtedly connected, or reconnected as the case may be...for our connection and ties run deep. Deeper than the relentless, insane, evil and wretched divide that stubbornly keeps us on the other side of real happiness, spiritual prosperity and true freedom.