I’ve Got Your Brooklynite Hayseed Right Here

George Plunkitt, of Tammany Hall fame, once said:

[A] Brooklynite is a natural-born hayseed, and can never become a real New Yorker. He can’t be trained into it. Consolidation didn’t make him a New Yorker, and nothin’ on earth can. A man born in Germany can settle down and become a good New Yorker. So can an Irishman; in fact, the first word an Irish boy learns in the old country is “New York,” and when he grows up and comes here, he is at home right away. Even a Jap or a Chinaman can become a New Yorker, but a Brooklynite never can.

And why? Because Brooklyn don’t seem to be like any other place on earth. Once let a man grow up amidst Brooklyn’s cobblestones, with the odor of Newton Creek and Gowanus Canal ever in his nostrils, and there’s no place in the world for him except Brooklyn. And even if he don’t grow up there; if he is born there and lives there only in his boyhood and then moves away, he is still beyond redemption. [link added]

I don’t think I’m a hayseed, though I was born in a really, really small town. But I do consider myself a Brooklynite, though I wasn’t born here. Ten years, just completed this past March, should count for something. I don’t quite know what Plunkitt means by being a ‘real New Yorker’ but if it means not being a ‘real’ Manhattanite, then that’s fine by me. Manhattan ain’t what it used to be; have you taken a walk around, say, the Bowery or the Lower East Side recently? And all those tourists? (Most of whom, thankfully, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and then turn right around.)

Plunkitt was right in describing Brooklyn as unlike ‘any other place on earth.’ And that’s because despite the relentless efforts by lazy Manhattan journalists to describe Brooklyn as a yuppified, gentrified, hipster haven, and despite the admitted excesses of Park Slope, Williamsburg and Atlantic Yards, Brooklyn still retains much of the ethnic, economic, class and culinary non-hipsterness that made it one of America’s most interesting cities.

There is a little twist in my Brooklyn-ness now, of course. I’m the parent of a native Brooklynite: my daughter, born last year at Long Island College Hospital, off Atlantic Avenue. I spent the first two days of her life, looking out from the maternity ward windows, over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, at New York Harbor, wondering what her life held in store for her. I couldn’t begin to guess at its contours but I felt supremely confident that growing up in Brooklyn meant it would be a very interesting one.

And I hope she can vote for someone else besides City Democrats, besides the product of generic political party machines. Plunkitt might be right; she might not be a ‘real New Yorker.’

From: Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics, ‘Brooklynites Natural Born Hayseeds’, Recorded by William L. Riordon, Signet Classics, 1995.

One thought on “I’ve Got Your Brooklynite Hayseed Right Here

  1. I think you nailed it on the head, Samir, NYC is becoming Disney World. Brooklyn and Manhattan have always been at odds, hence our unique holiday, Brooklyn/queens Day. When I began teaching I would have that day off, while my other UFT colleagues did not. I do disagree though that Bklyn is all that different. Look at every neighborhood that boarders the East River. Packed with Hipsters. My brother, native Brooklynite Artist, invited me to his studio 15 years ago. He was on the boarder of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Real Sketchy place. Real Brooklynites. Today…? A joke. My wife grew up in Bushwick. An old family friend died recently and we went to the wake on Graham Ave. My father in law could not stop laughing. Hipsters galore. And our Kennsington/Ditmas Park. Cortelyou Road is night/day to what it was in early 90s. I’m sure Plunkitt would have a different opinion if he were to walk the streets of Brooklyn today.

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