In the summer of 2004, my dad, who worked as a magazine editor (no, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree), was temporarily transferred from Los Angeles to New York. At the time, I was a broke twentysomething a few years into my own career in Manhattan. Dad stayed in a corporate apartment across town from my office, and we spent much of the summer together. Dad was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens, so this New York stint was a homecoming of sorts, and we celebrated with indulgent steakhouse meals, trips to the roof deck of the Met, and a blur of Broadway shows.
One humid Saturday morning, I suggested we go farther afield and visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens. Dad was a huge fan of the celebrated jazz musician. The house, located in the Corona neighborhood, was where Armstrong lived with his wife, Lucille, from 1943 until his death in 1971, and it has been preserved in their honor.
As we waited on the subway platform in Times Square for the 7 train to take us to the other side of the East River, Dad commented on how diverse the crowd was. When he was a kid, his neighborhood in Queens was predominantly Irish and Italian. Almost everyone he knew belonged to one of these two groups. Now, as the train barreled through the borough, people speaking different languages got on at every stop. When we reached Corona, we ate tacos in a little Mexican café, wandered through an Ecuadorian enclave, then spent the afternoon touring Armstrong’s former home, listening to the unmistakable sound of the entertainer’s voice and trumpet. We meandered back to the subway to return to Manhattan, and once again Dad marveled at the veritable United Nations around us. He talked about my generation being more open, less prejudiced, and how he believed that when people from all over the world lived together in tight quarters, the United States would move closer toward its melting pot promise.
Dad died this past April, and as I’ve moved through the last few foggy months of grief, I’ve sifted through nearly four decades of memories. Our day in Queens sticks with me. I remember the feeling of being caught up in the magnetic power of one of the world’s great cities, in the dynamism that comes from a constant influx of new residents and new ideas. And I remember my dad, filled with hope.