I am now 30 years old. I don't know how it happened, but it did. My twenties somehow vanished. But I have the ability now to reflect back on 20 years of cultural change. I was reading recently about my generation, the so called "millennials", also known as Generation Y. No one fully agrees when the dates of any generation begin and end, but Generation Y usually begins around 1980 or 1981. I am very lucky to have been born just before the internet and cell phones became ubiquitous because a whole generation of teenagers now have no idea what it is like not to have the internet instantly at the tip of their fingers via a laptop, tablet, or smart phone.
Back in the early 1990s when I was a young tween, nobody had heard of the internet except for some of those deep in the IT industry. It has been said that this was the last era of innocence in the America. In order to get porn, we had to get our hands on a magazine, which wasn't always so easy, or we had to get access to the dirty channels on cable, which also wasn't so easy. Now all of that trouble is gone due to the internet. The early 90s was the last time when you didn't have mountains of information so easily accessible just like parents didn't have.
We didn't have cell phones either. If you wanted to call someone outside you needed a payphone and the person you were calling had to be home. I remember when the beeper was the hot must have item, especially among Hip Hop heads. Of coarse I never had one. When cell phones started becoming more popular around 2000, it changed everything. Suddenly you couldn't pretend to not be home or have missed the call. Now you were accessible where ever you were, and there was backlash against it. I remember not being the only person I hung out with who hated cell phones when they first came out. Not only did you have to overhear people's annoying conversations outside, they always seemed to interrupt at just the wrong moment. I got a cell phone relatively late compared to most of my friends because I held out for so long until finally realizing resistance was futile. Now I feel naked leaving home without one.
Culturally I remember the 90s through the lens of the Hip Hop culture of New York, that was pierced with grunge. Until the late 90s, I never paid much attention to any other music other than Hip Hop. For me most of the 90s was baggy pants, wannabe gangsta looks, fades, graffiti, Wu-tang Clan, and bike rides around my 'hood on my BMX. During my Jr. High School years I used to hang out with this older Romanian kid who had zits all over his face. He was a trouble maker who used to lie constantly to show off. Behind a hill we called Dead Man's Hill there was this abandoned lot a block from my house that the neighborhood kids and us used to break into. It had an abandoned gas station in it that you could go into and there was a tree with a rope hanging from it that you could swing from like Tarzan over a pit of broken glass and rocks. There were a lot of second generation Irish kids in the neighborhood back then that I used to know and occasionally hang out with. Most of them were troublemakers, who used to fight all the time and engage in petty vandalism. We'd smash out windows of the gas station, graffiti it up and occasionally light fires. It was like a shared club house. I never really liked any of them, and by the late 90s, most of them disappeared, probably having moved away in response to the neighborhood becoming more ethnic.
Throughout the 90s immigrants were moving in, mostly from East and South Asia and various parts of Latin America. I saw the neighborhood change from predominantly white in the early 90s, to predominantly Asian/Latino in the late 90s. When I was about 9 or 10 my best friend was this Korean kid who lived in my building. One day when we were hanging out in the lot near one of the many pits filled with broken glass and garbage and we ran into this huge group of older Korean teenagers. We befriended them and they told us stories of being jumped and having to fight with the white kids in the neighborhood who didn't like them. When I reflect back on these memories it's so weird, because today with how ethnically diverse Queens is, you would never imagine that happening, but back in the early 90s it was the reality for many of the first waves of immigrants who came to settle in the neighborhoods of Western Queens. I remember that day standing there, where all those Korean kids were standing on one side of the pit as if they were going to have their picture taken. I later found out that there were skin head gangs in New York back in the 90s. There was DMS the Doc Marten Skinheads, know for wearing Doc Marten boots. They mostly died out by the late 90s and I never ran into them. Had I been about 5 years older I might have known or seen some of them.
I remember growing up with Generation X in mind during the 90s. When I got to High School, my first encounter with metal and grunge culture enlightened me to a whole new lifestyle that I knew next to nothing about. I started hanging out with them and I learned about the music they listened to. Back then I thought this metal/grunge culture was very much a part of Gen X. Nirvana, although disbanded after the death of Kurt Cobain was still very popular, and it was Nirvana that I associated with Generation X more than any other. Gen X was the generation of not giving a shit about anything, of hating society, hating school, not conforming, and being nihilistic in every sense. I think of lot of us who came of age in the 90s identified with this ideology. Being at the cusp of Generation Y I feel halfway in between Y and X. I don't particularly feel like I belong to any generation to be honest, but Generation Y to me are all those 20 something hipsters you see in Williamsburg.
Characteristically Generation Y is said to be more socially conscious that its predecessor. Generation Y is Generation We, who cares about the environment, animals and social justice. It became cool to be active is some sort of positive social cause for change or justice. We are are clearly headed in the right direction if even a little bit, because as I've written before, the apathy of the black community in America is responsible for many of its cyclical problems: Let's hope that Generation X's apathy will not remain a long term generational practice. Furthermore since I'm political, I like being part of a generation that is socially conscious.
So when I reflect on my generation years from now what will I remember? I think Generation Y's care will have inspired the following generations to carry the torch, although I'm not all that concerned with it. I hope that the greedy corporate fucks who are running the show now, many of them Boomers, will die out as Generation X and Y replaces them with a more compassionate view of the world and the people in it. That's hope for you.
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