We need only to look outside the walls around us,” the President said in his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly, “for through the citizens of every conceivable ancestry to make this city their own, we see living proof that opportunity can be accessed by all, that what unites us as human beings is far greater than what divides us, and that people from every part of this world can live together in peace.”
These were the last words of his speech -- and they didn’t get any great attention.
It sounded like Barack Obama the academic, preaching to a class at Harvard Law. And indeed it was. But the message should not be ignored.
New York City is a special place. As E.B. White wrote in his "Here In New York" piece: “It is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village -- the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying that the way is up.”
And the city indeed has stirred the hearts of many great writers and leaders. As Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. said: “It is a city of love and compassion and hundreds of thousands of unsung and uncelebrated acts of charity and kindness and heroism every minute of every hour and every hour of every day.”
Wagner called New York “the center of the universe.” And that belief continues to attract millions of immigrants to this place.
When visitors from Europe come here, many are amazed by what they see in the streets. The faces in the crowds make it clear: millions of diverse people live here in relative harmony.Our people are of many races, religions, ethnicities. But they rush along in their daily activities giving little thought, it seems, to the differences that may make for discord and conflict in the cities abroad they came from.
What a wonder New York is! More than a third of the city’s population is foreign born. The metropolis is home to more than 3 million Italians, the largest European ethnic group. There are more Jews within New York City than within the city limits of Jerusalem. We have the largest African-American community of any city in the United States. The Puerto Rican population is the largest outside Puerto Rico.
The people of New York speak over 140 languages ranging from Cajun to Yiddish. Among the languages spoken in this city are: Armenian, German, Russian, Polish, Urdu, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, Chinese, Hungarian, Arabic, French, Farsi, Hindi and Zulu. You name your language. We’ve got it.
Truly, New York is a model for the world. And Obama aptly acknowledged it in his speech to the General Assembly.
German writer and playwright Günter Grass summed it up: “Here you have everything -- all of Europe and America and people of all nations and colors.” And early 20th century author R.L. Duffus said: “New York is a sort of anthology of urban civilization. The song that any city sings she sings. All that can be housed in steel and cement is here, and with it, with all the city’s drabness, respect for the striving, combative, beauty-loving spirit of man.”
So thanks, Mr. President, for this latest compliment. May the spirit of tolerance and unity and compassion that has been part of this city since its birth be an inspiration to the United Nations and the world.