Dear XXXXXXXX,    

The East River knows all of our secrets. She welcomed us as we gathered by the pier to watch 4th of July fireworks when we were young. She laughed as we attempted to do nightly jogs by the water. She witnessed the birth of some of our most valuable friendships.

It felt like almost every warm, summer night of senior year was spent sitting on a bench on the pier. We watched Brooklyn light up across the river. The waves ebbed and flowed beneath us, eavesdropping on us pouring our hearts out. We shared our hopes for the next 4 years, imagining all the things we would accomplish in college. We shared our fears, too. How could we be so far away from each other when we had just met? How do we make new friends? What are we doing with our lives?

Not everything was so serious back then, though. Most nights were filled with petty gossip that I can’t even remember anymore. Probably giggling at our silly crushes and something stupid someone said in class. No rent to be paid, no job to show up to.

When I was away from college, I longed for the comfort of the East River. Proximity to the water was always a symbol of home. Upon returning after a transformative 4 years away, I realized I was not the only one who had changed.

The Lower East Side I left and the Lower East Side I came back to were two different beasts. Although gentrification had been present in my neighborhood throughout my entire life, I didn’t realize just how much change can occur in a short amount of time. The art galleries multiplied, the Chinese characters dwindled. What was once the street I stepped out into with PJs and slides became a 24/7 runway. I felt this strange sense of imposter syndrome, like I didn’t belong here. I was a stranger in the only place I had ever considered home.

I need to head to the water, I thought. As I made my way down, many parts that I once recognized were still appearing foreign to me. The closer I got to the East River, though, the more I began to feel that same comfort I was used to. They can change everything around you, but they can’t change you.

I could tell you still recognized me after all this time. Of course you did.

“You’ve grown so much! Look at you. You’re radiant,” you exclaimed.

“You smell as trashy as ever,” I responded.

“Oh I know! They can build all these fancy buildings, but they will NEVER get rid of this stench!”

You never fail to reassure me. 4 years ago, you told us that it would all be fine. Everything would work itself out. Of course, we didn’t listen to you. And again, you shared your infinite knowledge with us. They may try to change this neighborhood over and over. But what makes the Lower East Side isn’t all the art galleries, fancy high rises, or luxury eateries.

It’s the people, the resilient immigrants who’s tireless efforts paved the way for us first-generation Americans to thrive. It’s the food, the cheap bodega eats and $5 dinners from restaurants with ducks hanging on their storefront.

I’m not sure what the future holds for our home. But you tell me not to worry. So, so many people love and care for our home. They can keep changing and remodeling the streets, but they cannot change the people who made and continue to make this neighborhood what it is.

Sending you my love and always thinking of you,