There were times when I decided to miss the school bus on purpose after exhausting days during my junior and senior years in high school. Walks home often cleared my mind of negative thoughts, no matter how dangerous walking alone was emphasized in my town of Wyandanch or or “the Danch” as it’s often informally called by its residents. As long as I wore my favorite pair of black converse and leggings, along with a comfortable warm hoodie and had my music on full blast, I felt safe and secure.
While walking home one day, I found myself pondering the hometown I’ve scavenged for 18 years. Wyandanch resides right smack in the middle of Long Island in Suffolk County. I live on the borderline of Wheatley Heights, a town of middle and upper-middle class families, to the point where I can technically alter my address to Wheatley Heights if I wanted to. During the time I spent learning my ABC’s every day, growing inches every month, and getting older every year, numerous changes have occurred aesthetically for my town, and if you haven’t been a resident of Wyandanch for at least the last seven years, you wouldn’t remember it’s old scenery.
But I do. As I stared at my reflection amongst a newly built apartment building on this crisp fall day, I couldn’t help but reminisce about what Wyandanch used to be.
As a child, my mother, brother and I often walked 15 minutes to the grocery store whenever my father would be out working at what was then one of his numerous occupations. We would make our way up Nicolls Rd., a street which didn’t encounter as many shootings compared to the Boonies and South Side of town. Upon a four-way intersection towards the end of Nicolls, we made a left on a street called Straight Path, and it is this street that is now so unfamiliar. The only familiar thing would be the constant barking of unleashed dogs that continue to frighten me to this day, and those houses I remember seeing on my way to school.
Straight Path was and still is the heart of Wyandanch. It has the most activity and traffic compared to any part of town. Long ago, trees and bushes used to graze my arms and shield my body from the beaming sunlight, often where I’d get stung by mosquitos while walking up this road. There was an Arrow Scrap where CAT machines would crush old cars and large pieces of metal for reusable purposes. I still remember the distinctively strong odors of car oil and a torn-down auto body shop every time I passed this site, accompanied by the continuous beeping sound of a truck reversing out of the tightly spaced area. Up ahead would be more trees to my left, until you would come across a large parking lot which accommodated the vehicles of LIRR (Long Island Railroad) users. Right after that would be the Yellow Shopping Center or the Plaza. It was this shopping center where my mom would cash her checks, where we used to eat Domino’s pizza on financially stable weekends, and where I bought my first pet fish.
But this shopping center no longer exists. Businesses like Arrow Scrap and Domino’s needed to move up north or near Deer Park, a town of middle and upper-middle class residents, to accommodate the future blueprints for lower-class Wyandanch.
Those blueprints included a new post office, which opened a few years ago. While I find it visually pleasing, it is almost too pleasing for a town like Wyandanch. Its brick walls, perfectly angled roof and white awning stuck out like a stick in the mud amongst the rest of my run-down town. But it wasn’t until the new apartment buildings were constructed amongst the discarded remains of the old Plaza that I realized that a drastic change was coming. A sign showed a visual representation of what this area of Wyandanch was presumed to become and to be called — Wyandanch Village.
I’m sure most residents of Wyandanch were excited for the apartment buildings to open, because in all honesty, I was too, especially my mother. She knew almost everything about them.
“They’re going to add a double railroad and build a new train station along with new apartments,” she reported. Being a daily user of the LIRR for work, she favored this recreational project. The old station, admittedly, needed to be demolished; the smell of piss was not pleasant when waiting for the next departure to arrive.
The entire newly-built Wyandanch Village is beautiful. A summer fountain was placed between these two new buildings which would turn into an ice skating rink in the winter. There are now new places to sit and eat. Beautiful flowers have been planted, and Domino’s came back in town. There is even a small stage that was built for local performances. In addition to all of that, this is the first time our town has ever had a 7-Eleven and boy does it boom with business. In fact, this area of town was where my Pre-Prom was hosted, right between these two new apartment buildings.
Despite all of these interesting changes, I fail to understand the need for the name change of this part of town to Wyandanch Village. Regardless of its new name, Wyandanch Village will always be considered “that” town. The town where families are poor and live off of the government and welfare. The town where senseless shootings and deaths occur monthly. The town where students have low reading scores and poor academic standards. The town where the children will grow up with no ambition and attend “Straight Path University” i.e. the higher education of the streets.
These details that some consider indisputable facts rather than opinions create a heavy load of shame that the residents of Wyandanch, especially students, carry upon their backs. Little does the rest of Long Island know that families like my own struggle to pay bills and make a living. Little do they realize that the majority of deaths which occur in Wyandanch affect the students I learn with tremendously, because a brother, sister or friend has passed. Little do they know our SAT scores being low isn’t just the fault of the students. Little do they know many students are passionate and wish to become doctors, musicians, and engineers, but don’t have the necessary resources at hand.
It made me question how The Town of Babylon can alter the name of a town by adding the word “Village”, but disregard its educational standards.
The disparity between my town and another town only five minutes away isn’t something I understood until I grew as a person and began to understand concepts such as racism, segregation, and government. It irks my stomach to know other schools have tennis courts, AP classes, and pools, meanwhile my high school barely has a visible soccer field, a general selection of classes and a gym without any pool. Maybe the Wyandanch Village project seems like a step in the right direction, with a huge miss. Adults even question its authenticity.
“The Town of Babylon only wants to raise your property taxes,” my English teacher spat toward the class, and “They are trying to chase out the blacks,” another teacher informed me. Those words constantly ring in my head whenever I drive down Straight Path on my way to work, and even from there, my manager iterates, “I would never send my kids to the Wyandanch School District.” This leads me to another question: if they could fix up some buildings in our town, why not fix up the quality of education in our schools?
I can’t help but bite my tongue at the numerous remarks I hear; I wish I didn’t have to feel so defensive about where I was raised, and that I could show individuals the dreams and willpower that lies deep within this town. But a person won’t know until they actually experience what Wyandanch life is like. And that involves a lot of unspoken courage.
On that day of reminiscing, walking home while drinking my now cold hazelnut coffee, listening to the drilling of steel as a now third apartment building is being constructed, I only thought of the necessary changes that should be put forth, and the ones that should be put on hold. But who is to say what is necessary? Who will listen?