Introducing the 2023 Writing Contest award winners

Hotel Voice, Fall 2023

Every year, our judges marvel at the insight, creativity, and talent of our members’ children as they review the essays and works of fiction submitted in the Union’s annual writing contest. This year was no different: Judges Charles Bagli and Patrick McGeehan, both of the New York Times, struggled to choose from over 100 entries covering topics from young love and the power of art to immigration and climate change. 

The Hotel Voice is honored to announce this year’s winners:

Overall Winner: Amashi Arachchi
Parent: Deepani Alawaththa Gamaralalage, Crowne Plaza Times Square

Amashi’s narrative “Love in the City” explores the love found in everyday moments. Scroll down to read the full piece.

First Place, Essay: Mahana Joseph
Parent: Harry Joseph, New Yorker

Mahana, a two-time winner, took home first place for her essay that exposes the unmet promise of the American dream and lifts up immigrants’ unique ability to help America deliver on its “promise of possibility for all.”

Second Place, Essay: Ceanne Fulo
Parent: Francis Fulo, Ink 48

Ceanne’s essay examines American society’s unspoken rules for immigrants and urges readers to forget those rules and write their own “recipe” for the life they want.

Third Place, Essay: Joel Amoako
Parent: Patrick Amoako, Time Hotel

Joel’s essay on the politicization of the Supreme Court argues that the court no longer represents the vision of America’s “Founding Fathers.”

First Place, Narrative: Janice Chan
Parent: Huan Tong Li, Ludlow Hotel

Janice won first place for her fictional narrative about a young person navigating the nuances of being openly queer and the risk of violent reactions from strangers.

Second Place, Narrative: Melanie Kaczor
Parent: Malgorzata Kaczor, Concorde

Melanie’s narrative explores her struggle to reconcile her Polish heritage with her desire to belong in America.

Third Place, Narrative: Nuzhat Ahmed
Parent: Mohammed S. Ahmed, Algonquin 

Nuzhat’s narrative tells the story of a young girl moving to the United States from Bangladesh and the challenges and triumphs of adjusting to a new country.

Thanks to the Rubin Family

This year marks the 21st year of the Union’s writing contest, which was established by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation to encourage creativity among the children of HTC members. Laurel Rubin, the daughter of Donald Rubin and granddaughter of the first president of the Hotel Trades Council Jay Rubin, generously donated the money for this year’s contest. Winners were awarded prizes ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.

"Love in the City"
by Amashi Arachchi

“You must join this competition.” advised my photography teacher, Madame Noyer, as she pinned a couple of photos onto her bulletin display board. It was a Friday in May, the final voices that lingered in the school building had finally died down, and I stayed behind to help Noyer tidy up her room. I've had Noyer as my homeroom teacher for the past 3 years, and this year, I finally took a photography class with her. Noyer is a brilliant teacher and I'm genuinely grateful to know her, but sometimes I feel like she sets her expectations way too high for me.

"But Madame, the theme for this photography competition is Love in the City. I only know how to take scenery photos such as the sunset or the city skyline." I reasoned. "How am I supposed to fit my photography into this theme? If I join this competition, I'm only setting myself up for failure." I sighed as I placed a stack of photos on her cluttered desk.

"Arjun," Noyer said sternly as she stopped working to turn to face me. "You know I do not like when my students put themselves down without even trying." Her facial features softened and a small smile started to form on her face. "I know you feel like you might not be able to do it, but Arjun, if there is one thing I know about you, it is that you can do anything you put your mind to. I would never do anything that puts you in a place of failure."

I carefully picked up the photo that was on the very top of the photo pile. It was a photo of a flower field I took to submit as a homework assignment a few months ago. "I don't know, Madame. What if I don't win?" I muttered.
Noyer took the photo from my hand and smiled. "Then at least you tried. Sometimes the most phenomenal things are right in front of us, waiting to be discovered. Keep your eyes open, and you’ll find something remarkable." She pinned my photo onto the bulletin board and looked back at me. "I will not force you to do anything you do not want to do. However, the deadline to submit for the competition is next week on Friday. Just think about it, Arjun. Let me know what you decide to do."

Right on cue, the after school bell rang, ending Noyer's speech. "That's the bell then. You should start heading home now. I will finish the rest of the board next week." Noyer stored the rest of the photos away as I went to grab my backpack from the corner of the room. "Bye, Madame. I'll see you next week." I said as I headed towards the door. "Bye, Arjun," Noyer responded.

"And Arjun?" I stopped to hear what Noyer was about to say next. "Just consider the competition, okay? This could be a great opportunity for you." Noyer encouraged. I nodded my head. "Yeah, I'll get back to you on it." Noyer nodded her head back and smiled. "That's great. Have a great weekend, Arjun." I waved goodbye to Noyer and left her classroom. I'm not sure what I'm going to do for the photography competition but I can surely try something.

I went outside the Saturday after Noyer told me about the competition. I like being outside. Maybe it’s the way the gentle breeze brushes against my skin, the earthy scent of freshly cut grass fills the air, or the sunlight filters through tree leaves leaving patches of gold on the ground. Either way, I like being outside. Usually.

Today was not one of those days. The air was heavy and humid, the city smelled like cigarettes, and the sun was blazing, it scorched my skin. The strap of my camera sticking to the back of my neck felt all too uncomfortable. I seriously questioned whether capturing "love in the city" was even possible here. It felt like the weather was working against me. I wandered down streets just so I could go anywhere. I simply needed to find a busy place with a lot of people. With a lot of people in one area, I can probably find a couple who can pose for me. Maybe have them hold hands or even kiss for the camera. I think that will work for the competition.

After walking for a while, I got to the center of Times Square. There are always a lot of people in Times Square so I was sure I was going to find my couple. Just as I thought that there they were. A couple who represented the very nature of what I was searching for. They walked together, their steps in sync, their fingers intertwined, and their smiles genuine. This was the shot that would capture love in its purest form.

Gathering my courage, I approached them. “Excuse me," I began, trying to sound more confident compared to my shaky hands, "I’m a photographer, and I’m working on a project about love in the city. Would you mind posing for a photo?" The couple’s eyes met for a brief moment and then turned to me with warm smiles. "Sure, go ahead," the woman smiled, her voice carrying a kindness that put me at ease.

I adjusted my camera, carefully framing the shot to capture their presence. As I pressed the shutter button, freezing their smiles and energy into a single frame, a wave of fulfillment washed over me. I thanked the couple and they went on their way. However, a feeling of guilt started to build up. I reviewed the shot on my camera's display, and while technically it was a good photo, something about the feeling of the photo nagged at me. It felt staged and lacked the authenticity I had hoped to capture. Disappointment started to fill me. I really thought I captured the photos I wanted to submit for the photography competition. I needed to get away from this part of the city. Times Square was starting to burn my skin and I knew I wouldn’t be able to find love here.

After a 10-minute train ride, I found myself sitting underneath a shaded tree. The weather definitely felt better here. A slight breeze could be felt under the tree and I finally wasn’t under the scorching sun. I closed my eyes, taking in a deep breath of fresh air. I needed to clear my mind, to find a different perspective on this shot. I thought back on what Noyer said. What would she want me to do?

Just as I was lost in thought, my attention was drawn to a nearby bench. An elderly couple sat side by side, their hands intertwined. In their laps held small bags of bird seeds, which they sprinkled generously on the ground. Pigeons and sparrows flew to them and surrounded the elderly couple as the birds pecked at the food. What struck me most was the way the couple leaned into each other. The woman laughed, her eyes crinkling at the corners, while the man wore a contented smile that told me about all the years they had spent together.

Without hesitation, I lifted my camera and captured the scene before me. As I reviewed the photo on the camera's display, a warmth spread through me. This was it. This was the true love that I let slip away from me earlier. A connection that was as effortless as it was enduring.

I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. Everything I wanted to capture was right in front of me. A married couple pushing a baby stroller, with the couple’s hands on top of one another as the baby slept peacefully. Click. A father teaching his daughter how to ride a bike as he promises that he will not let go. Click. A young couple feeding each other food from the same dish. Click. Two teens walking together, laughing out loud. Click. A mother rubbing sun lotion on her son. Click. A girl swinging her friend on the swing. Click. Two kids playing Pat-A-Cake or some sort of hand game together. Click.

It has been a month since that Saturday I took all my photos. For some reason, I can remember that day so clearly. Right now, I’m standing in a museum, in front of an exhibit of all my photos from that day, enlarged and plastered on a wall. Madame Noyer standing right next to me, her eyes sparkling with awe.

“You did it, Arjun.” Noyer marveled. She turned to face me and smiled. I looked at her and smiled back. “I am so incredibly proud of you. Though, I must ask...” She started. “How did you manage to capture such a diverse and beautiful array of love?” Noyer questions.
I grin, knowing my answer instantly. “It was you who told me that the most phenomenal things are right in front of us, waiting to be discovered.” Noyer looked surprised at first, and then she starts to laugh, a genuine laugh. I start to laugh along with her.

Genuine love, I realized, couldn't be orchestrated. It was in stolen glances, shared laughter, and the unspoken understanding between two people. I had forgotten that genuine love was something that could not be directed. It was a raw, unfiltered emotion that revealed itself in the most unexpected moments.

If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.