A freshman’s perspective: From Union NJ to Union PA

Alisha Griffin, Contributing Writer

Although I left my hometown of Rahway, New Jersey behind, I found that Lewisburg holds many similarities to it. Both towns are located in a Union County. Both have a street named after Saint George (St. George Street here, St. George Avenue back home). Both are located near rivers that feed the surrounding area (though Rahway River can’t hold a candle to the Susquehanna). Both have large cemeteries and are extremely proud of their colonial origins.

But the similarities stop there. Lewisburg and Rahway, and, by extension, Central PA and Central NJ, are two sides of stereotypical American life: the rural, small towns and the bustling suburbs and big cities.

Something that a lot of New Jerseyans can agree on is that the sight of open land is weird. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation. Every square inch of land is used for something; we’d complain if it wasn’t developed or used in some way. Moreover, strips of greenery, especially those close to the city, are rare and are often littered with trash. But here, green is everywhere. It’s inescapable. New Jersey may be the Garden State, but the people who live here are farmers.

It’s not just the crops and greenery here that’s notable — it’s also the animals. The simplest way to discern whether or not someone is from the city is by observing how they react to the sight of cows, horses, and other livestock. If they rush to the side of a fence and start taking pictures while saying, “ooh!”, “ahh!” and “oh my God, a cow!” they’re likely from an urban area and probably have never seen a cow up close before.

But of course, one of the most obvious changes between Rahway and Lewisburg are the demographics. Rahway is in what is called the New York metropolitan area. Some may call it the “Tri-State Area,” but I think of it as being an hour away (by train or car) from New York City — the longest reasonable commute someone may attempt. As a result of being so close to New York City, many counties house a diverse range of people from all across the globe. For example, six of the 10 cities with the largest Indian populations are in New Jersey; Edison, a five minute drive from my house, is called “Little India” by its inhabitants.

Rahway itself is 50 percent white, 30 percent black, 24 percent Latino/Hispanic, with the remaining 6 percent being Asian or Native American. 23 percent of our citizens are foreign-born. In Rahway, I’ve been the only black, or even the only non-white person in a room before – that’s nothing new. But you can understand that when I arrived in Lewisburg, with its 90 percent white population, there was a recognizable shift.

But regardless of their racial homogeneity, the people out here, far away from either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, are nicer — to strangers I mean. No one randomly smiles and says hello to people they pass in New Jersey; people will think you’re crazy. It still catches me off-guard to have someone I don’t know pass by with a nod and a hello — sometimes a smile — looking me right in the eye. It makes me feel as if I have done something for them, or have to do something for them, or that they are trying to swindle me.

I thought that by going west, the kinds of people I would encounter wouldn’t change too drastically. Perhaps their type of music might change, or the kinds of sports they play, or the food they eat; but there truly was a greater difference than that. The people changed in skin color and, more importantly, behavior.

Still, by far the strangest, most jarring change is the vocabulary: who knew that ‘grinder’ is another word for ‘sandwich’?

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