If there's one thing I enjoy about writing a bimonthly column is it gives me time to sit back and digest all events that have transpired over the past couple of weeks while at the same time allowing the dust to settle. Well, now that the dust has settled I've decided to kick it up a little and comment on an issue that seems to follow us wherever we go. It has to do with our identity as to who we are and where we are going as a city. This identity problem comes by way of a football game between two high school teams. It's a story that has been covered in just about every form possible in terms of media attention. From the airwaves to the microwaves we hear of a story about a bunch of kids saying a not-so-nice thing as if never hearing an adult say some not-so-nice things. Unfortunately, the story is not about two high school football teams playing football but rather one of a city known for its large ethnic population versus another area known for ... well, I'm not quite sure what they're known for. If anybody knows what Burnt Hills is noted for, please let me know.
So here I am sitting on the visitors' side on a Saturday afternoon in "Suburbia" Burnt Hills cheering on our "Urban City" Rams. That's it. I finally realized what Burnt Hills is known for, which is being a suburban area without an identity. Somehow it just doesn't seem right in not having an identity. Suddenly through the mouths of babes on the Burnt Hills side a chant is heard. It was the mispronunciation of a word we are all proud to say, which is "Amsterdam." Upon hearing the chanting I immediately knew it had nothing to do with football. It was what I refer to as a stigma that has been attached to our city for quite some time. Now we all pretty much know what I'm talking about, which does not need to be repeated.
In fact as I said before the word really has nothing to do with football and everything to do with something of a different problem. It has to do with that of an identity problem or better yet a "labeling crisis." After hearing the chanting of what most consider as some sort of slur I began wondering as to what we as a city are doing to erase this perception. It was after the game that I really began to think about what impact it might have on our community.
Sure enough, the do-do hit the fan and all sorts of stories involving a bunch of kids chanting derogatory remarks becomes news of the day. To take it one step further, continuous stories circulated throughout the week involving editorials, apologies and even disciplinary actions coming from the Burnt Hills school district. Folks, this is big stuff and in a couple of weeks we'll all forget about it and go back to our daily routine. Come to think of it this story I'm talking about at this very moment is already a couple of weeks old but why let it settle when there's so much to be said on who we really are?
I started to think about a particular time long before Burnt Hills was ever established into an area with boundaries that a city called "Amsterdam" welcomed a large population of immigrants which included Italians, Polish, Irish, Germans and even a few Greeks. Thought I'd throw in the Greeks being I carry half that heritage. Hopefully I didn't leave anyone out of the picture. It was also a time well before Burnt Hills ever had a football field. My guess is Burnt Hills was probably a cow pasture back then. Sorry, there I go again labeling Burnt Hills as being something other than a ... I'm still not quite sure on how to identify the area. OK folks, I'll try to refrain myself from putting labels on a place I really don't know anything about.
Going back to my story of long ago the idea of a diverse group of immigrants coming into an American city was something different and not fully accepted by those already living there. It was a time when immigrants were somewhat forced to huddle among their own kind. That's where distinct neighborhoods were formed developing an identity. Today one example of maintaining that identity is the revival of Bridge Street on the South Side. However, it wasn't an easy path to reach that point of finding acceptance in a community. It took many years of tolerance and understanding before people began working together to create our city with flavor.
Once again the city of Amsterdam has proven we know how to do things right when it comes to showing off our goods. Homecoming is a gathering to be remembered. Many people came out not only to support a football team with the famous Marching Rams, color guards, majorettes and alumni, but also to show who we really are, which is a city with rich history and pride. We are now in the second half of our game where hopefully people living outside the city limits will learn that Amsterdam is not the identity of one specific group. Sure, we have our problems as with any city but to place a label on us is an unfair penalty. Amsterdam is a tough and resilient city with a sticks-and-stones attitude. I was there that day in Burnt Hills when the chants occurred and even though we didn't win the football game, in the end we were the better team in understanding tolerance, respectfulness, dignity and pride.
Until next time -- hold that thought.
MIKE LAZAROU is an Amsterdam native and a regular columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.