Future Selves: On Growing Up in New York City

What does the future look like for young girls growing up in New York? We asked 9-year-old Chenyari and 15-year-old Brielle, two sisters from the Lower East Side, to share their experiences. Home-schooled by their mom, Melle, who runs a program called The ROC (Resource and Community Center) for Homeschoolers in the East Village, the girls are passionate about their education and their hobbies. They can often be found acting in the Metropolitan Opera, doing taekwondo and working on art projects. As they face the opportunities and challenges of a childhood spent in one of the world’s most bustling cities, the girls reflect on who they may become in the not-so-distant future.

 
Future Selves: Chenyari and Brielle by Emily Collins

 

What do you think about when you hear the word “future”?

Chenyari: When I think about the future, I see a new world that has nice people in it. Nobody’s being mean to you—it’s better and more creative, and it’s nicer and prettier.

Brielle: I usually start to get a little bit fearful when I think about it too much. I start to think about the responsibilities that I would have, and what I’d be doing and if I’d be able to survive. I also think: will I be happier in the future? Will it be better, or will it be worse? I kind of get scared.

Are there specific things that make you feel fearful of the future?

Brielle: I fear that I won’t be able to handle it—just having to handle all of the responsibilities. What if I fail and become homeless or something?

Do you think you’ll want to continue to live in New York as you get older?

Brielle: I think I would probably want to stay living in the city because that’s what I know, but I want to travel a lot. I want to go to all my bucket list places like Hawaii, Canada and Paris.

Chenyari: I see myself in New York because this is where I wanna be because I’ve been here for 9 years now. I just love being here because everything is pretty and my family is here.

Is there one particular woman who inspires how you see your future selves?

Chenyari: Yes, actually. It’s probably my mom or my sister. I admire the most about my mom that she runs a school by herself. And about my sister, that she’s really good at [styling] dolls’ hair.

Brielle: Demi Lovato. She had a lot of issues when she was younger with depression, eating disorders, alcohol and drugs. And the way she got through that was she realized she had to take a stand. I like the way she figured out how to accept herself and be herself, and feel validated, and she inspired me to do that. I like how she’s still talking about it and being a spokeswoman for bullying. Helping people believe in themselves, even if they feel different. I like the way she helps people, she’s really my favorite.

Do you think that you’ll have one specific job when you get older, or are you interested in different types of work?

Brielle: I feel like I’d be someone who’d do a lot of different things because there is so much I’m interested in and I don’t think I’d want to choose. A lot of people tell me that they think I should do multimedia and use a lot of different types of art, so I don’t think that I’ll just do one thing.

Chenyari: I think about being a fashion model or a stylist.

Do you ever think about what you’ll be like when you’re old women?

Chenyari: I don’t think about that. I’m just concentrated on now and what I’m going to do in these two years, or something like this.

Brielle: Well, usually I feel like I know everything and that there’s not that much more to know and then a year later I’ll think, “Oh, I was really dumb, there’s still so much more to know about.” So it’s taken me 15 years to realize that there’s much more to discover and I don’t really know anything.

You’re involved in a lot of activities, like taekwondo and acting. Does living in New York inspire you to want to do more things since there is so much going on, or do you think it’s your natural instinct?

Brielle: Being in the city really does give you the opportunity to do more. I feel like if I were living in a quiet place I wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about that all the time, but being surrounded by all that activity kind of forces you into doing things.

 

Illustration and animation by Emily Collins