Sunday, June 8, 2014

Peeling Away Binghamton's Many Layers

All too often I find myself being asked, "Why Binghamton?" My pat response has and always will be "Why not?".

Binghamton can easily be compared to an onion. Now, before you start complaining about the comparison; hear me out.  

First, there are the layers. As you peel back each one, there is always something more.  Too many people see Binghamton as one-dimensional. They do not take the time to delve deeper into the community.  In order to truly appreciate this area, one must venture outside their comfort zones and take in the entire Binghamton experience. I have found that too many would rather complain about negatives and ignore the positives when it comes to the area.

Secondly, there is the pungency. Yes, initially an onion can be pungent. To newcomers to the area; certain areas of Binghamton may also appear repugnant. Particularly, to those coming from the neat and tidy bedroom communities downstate. Just as an onion takes on a special sweetness when allowed to cook and caramelize; so does Binghamton. Judging an area at first glance does both yourself and the area a disservice. 

Sure, we may not be the prettiest of cities nor may we be the most exciting; however, we do have a lot to offer.  All you need to do is peel back the layers.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Celebrate Binghamton's Diversity

Having spent a majority of my formative years on the north shore of Eastern Long Island; I led a sheltered childhood when it came to different races, ethnicity, political beliefs and, yes, sexual orientation.  During the late 1960's through mid 1970's, eastern Suffolk County was a Caucasian, Roman Catholic, republican haven for middle class businessmen and their families. We had the McCarthy's on one side of us and the Esposito's on the other.  Our fathers rode the Long Island Railroad to Manhattan every morning while we frolicked in blissful suburbia. Yes, in hindsight, it was probably not the most healthy of social environments; but who knew any better then.

To be honest, the first African American that I became friends with was during a brief time my family lived in Florida.  We moved down during Florida's desegregation of its schools. I spent many a school day being bused over a hour each way to junior high school.  It wasn't until I entered college, 35 years ago this September, that I met my first non-catholic, democrat and, yes, gay (not all the same person, mind you). Did lightning strike during any of these encounters?  Of course not.

When given the chance to move to Binghamton in the early 1990's for business and family reasons, I looked forward to giving my children the chance to experience a broad spectrum of diversity that was not available to me at their age. I am proud of the young men that they have become. Much of the credit needs to go to the Binghamton School District and Binghamton, overall. They did not see the diverse cultures and races as being anything out of the norm. Their friends were their friends no matter what color their skin, or what religion they were, or how much money their families had. They didn't have to question whether their friends preferred boys or girls.  A friend was a friend no matter what.

Much has been written about Binghamton's diversity; unfortunately, more negative than positive. Why is that? Is it easier to speak ill of someone who is different than yourself than to accept them for who they are? Is it a lack of understanding coupled with a fear of asking questions in order to understand?

Diverse populations are necessary for communities to thrive. If everyone was of the same beliefs and backgrounds, any community would become stagnant very quickly.  We need to celebrate our differences rather than distance ourselves from them. 

June is Pride Month. Let's start by celebrating with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who are members of the LGBT community right here in Binghamton.  On Saturday, June 7th the Pride Rainbow flag will be raised outside City Hall.  Showing our support is the first step in understanding. If there is something about the LGBT community you do not understand; don't be afraid to ask.  Again, lightning will not strike you down for doing so.

I look forward to seeing you all on Saturday morning.

(p.s. - that non-catholic I met 35 years ago, is now my husband of nearly 31 years.)