FOR NEW YORK CITY DESIGN GRADUATES,
THE PANDEMIC HAS EXPOSED
THE EMPTY FAIRYTALE OF LIFE IN THE CITY
A city-centric way of life is no longer as viable as it once was, or was made to seem.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Young designers are moving out of NYC, and not looking back. The hoards have migrated to watering holes in the Hamptons, and those who stayed are left with empty dreams. For young students the choices are limited: stay in NYC and weather the storm or move back home. For some home means a three-hour drive across state lines, while for others it means an 11-hour international flight.
The tall tale told to students that a successful life is one spent in the city, was already beginning to show cracks, and now, in the wake of the pandemic, it has fallen to pieces. 2,000 dollars spent on rent for a studio apartment the size of your parent's laundry room no longer seems as tempting as moving back home with them for a few months or a year.
International students are faced with a complex dilemma: do they stay in a city that has become as foreign to them as it was the first day they arrived in a matter of weeks, or do they mask up and take a flight home for good? The uncertainty of the pandemic has pushed those with already uncertain situations; an unresolved visa, or no second home to flee to, into a blind alley. For those who still believe in the promise of the city this is a tragedy, but for others, it is the beginning of a much-needed shift away from city-centric life.
A radical shift
Grace Her, 26, will graduate from Parsons next year. Originally from South Korea, she came to America to enroll in the Fashion Design and Society MA and then planned on staying in NYC on an artist's visa. Now, she contemplates a return to South Korea upon the completion of her degree. “I was planning to get an artist visa after graduation. But now I'm thinking of going back to Korea. But because of the extreme uncertainty, it is hard.”
Kara Quinteros, 21, of BFA fashion design at Parsons has returned home to Western Massachusetts, deciding to leave NYC after her in-person classes ended on March 10th. “I've already left NYC. I lived with my cousins, aunt, and fiancé. But then in-person classes were canceled, so we just didn't go back. I think everyone feels pretty nervous and uncertain. I do, but I also feel optimistic.”
Yi Han, originally from Taiwan, left NYC in mid-March. With uncertainty surrounding the status of her visa and prejudice exposed by the pandemic, her return is uncertain. “I am an international student and my original plan was to apply for OPT and stay and work in NYC for at least a year. I moved back to Taiwan during March due to the situation and is questioning whether if I should go back. Also, President Trump is enacting new legislation on visas, which is making it more difficult for international students to work in the US.”
“I saw NYC as a city of embracement, where all the cultures were endorsed and celebrated. But over the past few months, a lot of Asians, and even a few international students from The New School have been physically harassed and attacked. As an Asian girl, I felt not only helpless and threatened, but also very disappointed.”
OTP or optional practice training allows for recent graduates to work using their student visas. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates are allocated up to 36 months of OTP, while for art-school graduates, there is no guaranteed amount of time given. This system keeps in foreign biochemical engineers and the like but shuns those working within fashion. Uncertain visa regulations coupled with the pandemic are driving out international students and homogenizing the landscape in NYC.
Hannah Marriott, 22, moved to NYC from Chicago in 2016 to study fashion design.
“I was originally going to work for a few years in a company somewhere in NYC, and then go abroad for a master's degree. My family wants me close to home for the next few years until it is safe to travel, and since the fashion industry seems to be collapsing, the likelihood of finding a job is low."
“NYC is exhausting, I knew it was never going to be a permanent home for me. It has remarkable inequities that the pandemic has brought to light. I don't think the threat of future pandemics is something that would keep me away from NYC. I would return if I found a job there that covered the cost of living, which is unlikely.
Marriott's final collection. QR codes are block printed onto recycled cotton. Marriot wanted to "communicate to a larger audience about the mass extinction of certain species". The QR codes elead viewers to informative sites about the endangered species printed on each garment. Viewers can start a conversation around each piece - which is something of great value in times like these.
“A dream deferred is a dream denied,” said Langston Hughes in his ode to a divided NYC. For many graduates, the risk is no longer worth the reward. There will be a deficit of young talent that held up the city for so long. Some will take the risk and come back, spurred on by blind optimism, while others will return as tourists, not New Yorkers.