The front page article in Saturday’s NY Times was headlined “Life Was in Chaos for Nanny Accused of Killings.” To support this, the writers refer to Yoselyn Ortega’s home as an overcrowded tenement which she was anxious to leave. The dictionary defines tenement as a “rundown, low-rental building whose facilities and maintenance barely meet minimum standards.” In fact, the nanny’s home is a six story apartment building on Riverside Drive in the gentrifying neighborhood of Hamilton Heights whose superintendent was quoted often in the media coverage of the story. The nanny, who is a naturalized American citizen, had a job that probably paid her as much as some teachers earn. Whatever emotional cataclysm caused her to stab two children to death should not be conflated with the insinuation of class warfare or the attempt to turn her into an impoverished woman living in a cold water flat. Whatever her financial constraints may have been, she was employed with benefits at a time when rampant unemployment is the key issue in our current presidential campaign.
On a lighter but no less incorrect note, an article about the designer Tory Burch (WSJ 10/28) refers to her beginning her career in her kitchen. Lest you imagine her huddled near her garret stove to keep warm, you should know that Ms. Burch was born, married and divorced wealthy, so wealthy that this incubator kitchen was either in her opulent, palatial apartment at the Pierre Hotel, or in her opulent, palatial mansion in Southampton. Either way, Ms. Burch’s start was not from the proverbial bottom, as is suggested by locating her in the kitchen, but from a highly privileged platform, more akin to a ballroom.
In exploring the attitudes of Asian families towards academic achievement (NYTimes 10/27), the reporter references the parents of a young Chinese emigre who left him with his grandparents in Chinatown while they lived on the upper east side near a laundromat “where they endured 12 hour shifts.” Endured? Tell that to most doctors and lawyers who have spent long academic years preparing and training for the privilege of then being overworked. Tell that to many other professionals whoses days don’t end until they finish what they have to, regardless of how many hours it takes. In this particular case, the term is ludicrous since unskilled workers in China are subjected to far more punishing shifts than 12 hours, one of the main reasons they are eager to flee that country and move here. The Times reporter eventually interviews a Cambodian woman whose daughter is tutored several days a week for the qualifying test for admission to New York City’s eight top schools. Though some consider this extreme and the writer refers to it as a “grueling exam process,” the woman explains that after having watched her father and four brothers die of starvation in Cambodia’s civil war, helping her daughter to excel in school is the “easy part of her life.”
For a country obsessed with the goal of diversity, it behooves us to understand the comparative conditions in this world that are truly “grueling,” that require “endurance,” that begin in a “tenement” or a “kitchen” in the metaphoric sense of that term. What is betrayed in the examples cited from just a few articles from our most prestigious newspapers is how uncomprehending journalists are of how meaningful America is to people from other cultures and societies. To be more cynical, their seeming lack of comprehension is second to their agenda of biting the hand that has fed them by implying criticism even when America is doing what it does best - offering unparalleled opportunity to those who are willing to work for it.
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