Cultural Diversity in New York City

Its ethnic and cultural diversity and vibrant mix of world influences might be one reason why NYC attracts millions of visitors each year.

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The 152-foot-tall Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor still beckons immigrants just like it did in 1886, when it was erected after being shipped in pieces from Paris -- a gift to the United States by the people of France. The words written at the base of Lady Liberty by poet Emma Lazarus read: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free ... I lift my lamp beside the golden door" are still as heartfelt for today's immigrants as they were for the 12 million immigrants who came through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

By: Paul McGinniss

It should come as no surprise that New York City is home to the headquarters of the world's most significant international organization: the United Nations. After all, the city itself is in essence a living United Nations.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report about NYC revealed an increasingly diverse and dynamic city with immigrants making up the majority of the residents in some neighborhoods. All five boroughs illustrate this melting pot of cultures through activities, museums, stores and restaurants, where you can meet people of different countries, sample exotic cuisine and products, listen to international music and watch foreign films.

With almost 200 languages spoken, 40 percent of the NYC population was born outside of the United States. Combine the cultural and ethnic diversity of the residents with the hundreds of consulates, embassies and permanent U.N. missions and you have a cosmopolitan city unlike any other. Even the embassy-filled nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is downright homogeneous when compared to the ever-changing rainbow of worlds that is New York City.

A Brief History of the United Nations

Rising from the ashes of World War II, the city of San Francisco hosted the United Nations Conference on International Organization in June 1945, with members of 50 countries convening to draw up the U.N. Charter. The Charter grew from proposals developed by the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China. The United Nations officially came into existence in October 1945. As New York was America’s most international city, it was chosen to be its headquarters. Construction of a modern complex to house the institution began in 1947 on the banks of the East River in Manhattan and concluded in 1953.

In 1948, the United Nations formulated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a historic proclamation of the rights and freedoms to which all men and women are entitled. Since then, there have been more than 80 U.N. treaties to protect and promote specific human rights. The Millennium Summit, held at the New York headquarters in 2000, was the largest gathering of world leaders to date.

Visiting the United Nations

The 18-acre site extends from 42nd Street to 48th Street, and from First Avenue to the East River. When you pass through the gates, you enter international territory. The land doesn't belong to just one country, but to all the countries that joined the organization. The United Nations has its own security and fire forces, issues its own postage stamps and conducts business in six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The visitors' entrance is located on First Avenue at 46th Street. Parking is not available so public transportation is recommended. By subway, take the 4, 5, 6 or 7 trains to Grand Central Station and walk on 42nd Street to First Avenue. If taking the bus, take the M15, M27, M42 or M104.

Arrive early for any scheduled tour or meal reservation in the Delegates Dining Room, a highly recommended experience. Security is thorough and you'll want to leave yourself enough time to get through the checkpoints.

Touring the U.N. With Young Ambassadors to the World: Throughout the year, young people from approximately 20 different countries who speak dozens of languages give tours to the public. These special U.N. tour guides, called U.N. Ambassadors to the Public, undergo intensive training and education in world events. They are briefed every morning on world developments so that their presentations are current on the day of the tour.

About 400,000 people visit the United Nations each year. May is usually the busiest month because of the large number of school groups. If you take a tour, you could easily end up being guided by a Brazilian from the Amazon and joined by backpackers from New Zealand, farmers from Canada, Chinese businessmen or students from the United States. The unexpected variety is part of the fun. Call 212-963-8687 for information on tours.   

Lunch in the Delegates Dining Room: For a truly memorable experience, take the official tour and then have lunch in the Delegates Dining Room, which overlooks the East River and is filled with U.N. staff and delegates. Each week, a different country takes over the kitchen and offers up a sumptuous array of food and libations from their nation. Few tourists or native New Yorkers know about or go to the Delegates Dining Room for lunch, so you'll feel like a real insider.

Arrive toward the beginning of lunchtime and grab a table before the rush. The dining room fills up quickly with U.N. delegates and workers, and lines easily develop for the mouthwatering culinary delights stretched out on the buffet and served by chefs from that week's hosting country. It’s all-you-can-eat, so save your appetite for dessert.

Don’t be in a rush once you get a table. With unlimited food, it's easy to sit there for several hours enjoying the incredible view of New York and the mix of people.

Making a Reservation for Dining at the U.N.: Reservations for the Delegates Dining Room are a must and should be made as far in advance as possible through the maître d'hôtel at 212-963-7625. The minimum age requirement for group reservations is 12 years or over. Proper attire is required.

In order to get upstairs to the Delegates Dining Room, you must present a picture ID at the information kiosk in the main lobby. You'll receive a security pass and badge. A security guard near the elevator will direct you to the attended elevator which takes you to the fourth floor. It’s a bit complicated but still loads of fun. You’ll feel like a diplomat.  

INTERNATIONAL PARADES

The Annual International Cultures Parade
June, Midtown Manhattan
The international combustion engine that is New York City is reflected in the many ethnic parades that happen throughout the year. One of the best examples of NYC as a living United Nations is the Annual International Cultures Parade which is organized and sponsored by the International Immigrants Foundation, a non-governmental organization at the United Nations.

This is the only parade in New York City that showcases the multicultural heritage of over 100 world communities at once. The Regional Tibetan Women's Association of New York and New Jersey has coordinated the parade for the last six years. Along with a contingent of colorful Tibetans, thousands of people -- from Morocco to Mexico, Egypt to Ecuador, ranging from young children to their great-grandparents -- join in the festivities. Some walk through the streets of midtown New York while others ride floats, dance, play music and perform in native costumes.

Of course, you can find a parade celebrating the heritage of practically any ethnic group. Here are some of the biggest: 

  • Chinese New Year Parade
    First full moon between Jan 21 and Feb 19, 212-431-9740
    The parade usually winds throughout Chinatown along Mott, Canal and Bayard streets, and along East Broadway.
  • St Patrick's Day Parade
    March 17, 212-484-1222
    Celebrating an impromptu march through the streets by Irish militiamen on St. Patrick's Day in 1762, this has become a draw for every Irish band and organization in the U.S. and Ireland. Usually starting just before noon, it heads up Fifth Avenue between 44th and 86th streets.
  • Puerto Rican Day Parade
    June
    A traditional celebration of the heritage, culture and history of more than 800,000 New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. Runs along Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street.
  • West Indian-American Day Parade
    Labor Day, 718-467-1797 or 212-484-1222
    Brooklyn's largest parade, modeled after the carnivals of Trinidad and Tobago, features music, food and dance. The parade route begins at the corner of Rochester and Eastern Parkway and ends near the Grand Army Plaza.
  • African-American Day Parade
    Late September, 212-348-3080
    Runs from 111th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard to 142nd Street, then east toward Fifth Avenue in Harlem.
  • Columbus Day Parade
    Mid-October, 212-249-2360
    One of NYC’s largest, this parade pays tribute to the city's Italian heritage and commemorates the day America was put on the map. Runs along Fifth Avenue from 44th to 79th streets.  

INTERNATIONAL MUSIC AT ITS BEST

World Music Institute (WMI), 212-545-7536
WMI supports and promotes both U.S.-resident artists as well international masters. The group presents 60 concerts a year at theaters throughout the city. Performances include acts from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East as well as regional music from throughout North America.

With one of the most diverse artist rosters and audiences, WMI plays an important role in presenting under-recognized dance and music traditions from more than 100 countries and ethnic minorities from around the world. WMI celebrates the culture of the many immigrant communities in New York, while exposing New Yorkers to musical traditions that include Afro-Peruvian, American Gospel, New York Flamenco, Soul music from Mali and Indian dancers.

INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS

In addition to being one of the most filmed cities in the world, New York City hosts international film festivals throughout the year. At almost any given time, there's a film festival where you can see the latest cinema from around the globe. Here are three to know about:

Queens International Film Festival, November 

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