“Why Staten Island is New York City’s most mocked borough”

May 11th, 2012

I just came across this article from two years ago on Slate, authored by a Staten Island native, that captures quite accurately, how I feel about Staten Island:

People who know little about Staten Island tend to know this much: It is a historical haven for mobsters (Paul Castellano‘s former mansion is a short drive from Vito Corleone’s Godfather compound); it is home to a 2,200-acre landfill, the city dump from 1948 to 2001; it is home to the city’s strongest conservative voting bloc (it’s the only borough McCain carried in 2008); and it’s home to the largest per-capita Italian-American population in New York state. This last factoid extends back to the 1950s, when “white flight” began to scatter Brooklyn’s Italian-American communities out to suburban Staten Island. This migration was further enabled and encouraged by the 1964 opening of theVerrazano bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island and which gave the rest of the city a means of entry besides public ferry. (There are three bridges that connect Staten Island to New Jersey.)

MTV deserves ample credit, however, if Staten Island is best known today as Planet Guido. Jersey Shore isn’t the first time the network has tapped the island for deliciously unflattering programming. The past few years have also seen the broadcast of True Life: I’m a Staten Island Girl, in which three teens share their preferences for buff, “orange” guys and fantasize about high-paying waitress jobs; and My Super Sweet Sixteen: Cindy, in which a luxuriously pampered adolescent arrives at a garish New Dorp catering hall via Cinderella-style carriage, her beau in full-on princely regalia and wearing a blowback to make Pauly D.’s wilt with envy. One commenter responding to the Advance article wrote that “thanks to MTV, no one believes me when I tell them I’m from SI, NY … they say I’m not orange enough.”

The longing, Manhattan-ward gaze and the stiff-armed big-city rebuff: this duality is key to Staten Island. But the latter is the borough’s dominant attitude, especially as you get farther and farther south. In True Life: I’m a Staten Island Girl, one South Shore teen puts it nicely: “Nobody in my family has really left. I have everything I’ve ever wanted here. I drive a Lexus truck.” Several parents of friends of mine lived lives in which the city at large pointedly played no part. I remember one mother describing Manhattan, with a theatrical, revolted shudder, as crowded and gross: She liked to leave Staten Island on weekends, but preferred to head for the air-conditioned confines of New Jersey’s Short Hills Mall. Provincialism can be sniffed out in suburbs everywhere, naturally, but it’s jarring to find a chunk of the stuff bobbing, intact, within the so-called melting pot. There’s something of the chicken-and-the-egg to the issue, as a systematic inferiority complex shades into fierce, hermetic pride. The borough’s geographic remoteness at once mandates isolation (the ferry is a hassle to build a life around, except perhaps as a 9-to-5 commuter) and caters to isolationism (the present-day population remains nearly 80 percent white).

The stiff arm was ratified in 1993, when a majority of Staten Island residents voted to secede from New York City, tired of paying taxes to a city that rewarded them with megatons of waste and megatons of scorn. The State Assembly swatted down the resulting bill in 1994; secession talk resurfaced in 2008, though its chances of success are as slight as they were 17 years ago.

When I was in 4th Grade, I debated at school that Staten Island should secede. It was written up in the Staten Island Advance.

In some classes, students collected newspaper articles and gave speeches. Joshua Blackman gave a speech saying he thought secession was a good idea. He told his class that Staten Island would be divided into 15 districts, so that every neighborhood will be represented.

Never before has the preservation of trees become such a secession priority. But when Lucille Tannis’ fourth-grade class discussed the topic yesterday, saving trees was issue one.

Joshua Blackman pointed out that an Island city would be broken into 15 districts “to make sure every neighborhood is represented.”

“But what are you going to do about the dump?” said one student, challenging him during the question-and-answer portion of his speech.

“I might try to recycle or something,” said Joshua with a shrug of his shoulders a response not unlike those seen from some bureaucrats confronting the issue.

Knowing what I know now, I would have just given it to Jersey, but back then I was in favor of secession. But take note that I was always a champion of a Republican form of government, stressing the importance of equalrepresentation. I note the irony that even at the age of 10, I was *shrugging.*  I was always a radical, wasn’t I?

Staten Island is much harder to assimilate into the fabric of New York. Politically, culturally, and sociologically, it is the strangest bedfellow in the city’sménage à cinq, regarded as a little red state full of orange people who seem to have crash-landed on our blue planet.

In this light, the Staten Island Guido is the most vivid, visible (and, some might say, grotesque) reflection of the borough’s psychology. He turns “Guido” from a slur to a badge of honor and wears his déclassé otherness as proudly and aggressively as a punk rocker. (In its snob-scandalizing powers, the blowback is a far more radical hairstyle today than the Mohawk.) “The Situation” is exemplary: part insufferable rooster, part underdog. Kind of like his hometown.