April 12: El Museo del Barrio, among other stops
By Judith Dickinson
On Thursday, April 12, we went to El Museo del Barrio.This museum was created asa neighborhood museum of Puerto Rican culture and dedicated to social justice. However, El Museo del Barrio has evolved over time and today it includes Puerto Rican, Latino, Caribbean and Latin American art and culture.
Visiting this museum was important to understand the lives and realities of the newest immigrants: the people from Latin America and the Caribbean. The museum celebrates the works created by many immigrants from Latin America and by the people of Latin America. Visiting this museum helped us understand their stories, their realities, and their experiences both in New York and in Latin America. For example, there was one striking sculpture that was created by female immigrants from Mexico. The sculpture represents a desert plant and is made of green cloth, which represents the uniform of the border guards. On the desert plant were embroidered many scenes of the dangerous journey that a typical migrant would make crossing the border from Mexico: animals, a hot sun, families carrying food and families carrying their small children.
After spending the morning at El Museo del Barrio, everyone dispersed into separate groups to do as they chose for the rest of the day. Our research group, the Jamaican group, spent some time in Crown Heights exploring the neighborhood and finalizing the routes for our tour the next morning. In fact, it was in Crown Heights that we stumbled upon a gas station and realized that we hadn’t seen one since we arrived in New York! One of the first things we did in Crown Heights was walk the streets of Franklin Avenue, where we really got a sense of the influence of West Indian culture and gentrification of the area. Sylvester of Rapid Realty NYC and Florence Bonhomme Comeau of Interlink Translation Services also talked to the group, in order for us to gather more information on the gentrification and cultural influences on the area respectively. In the evening, despite the rain, some of us walked the financial district of New York and Wall Street. On the subway route back uptown, our group experienced our first and only unfortunate encounter with a man who screamed racial and discriminating comments at us. However, this uncanny situation also emphasized the overall tolerance of New York’s inhabitants. It took until day six before we had such an encounter and many of our fellow subway car riders shared in our bewilderment of the man’s behavior. It was this overall friendliness of New Yorkers and the integration of its people that defined the New York experience for some of us. Even when conducting interviews in Crown Heights earlier that day, it was discovered that everyone we approached was more than willing to speak with us and answer any questions we had. Our subway encounter then led us to visit the Empire State building before settling back at the hotel to work on various assignments and research for the night.
April 13 photos:
(Top) The group gathers around to learn about this Crown Heights community garden
(Left) A fine example of the graffiti that can be seen throughout Crown Heights
(Right) The peer-guided tour led the group to the oldest housing of the Crown Heights area; this row of houses has great historical significance.
April 13: finding graffiti and green space in Crown Heights
By Arrita Arzuallxhiu and Scott Taylor
Our seventh day included a trip to Crown Heights our group, the Jamaican group, led a tour focused on Jamaican immigrants. Crown Heights is decorated with many murals that are painted on building walls. While these are legally considered graffiti, there can be no doubt that they were done by people with real artistic talent for a specific purpose. Our two favorites were: one that was nearly an entire city block long and included several prominent leaders for countries all over the world, and several well-done Nickelodeon Junior cartoon characters on the side of a daycare.
Also, we were both impressed by the row of houses that have stood in Crown Heights since 1876. It was the historic area of the neighborhood with old and very beautiful houses around it. Walking down the streets of Nostrand Avenue we also saw a community garden, which we found right beside this row of homes. This garden was created in 1980 so the people in the neighborhood would have a green place to go. It includes both flowers and vegetables and is kept up by a rainwater collecting system that gathers water from the roofs of ten nearby buildings. This was impressive to us because it was so unexpected, a large oasis in the middle of an area dominated by steel and concrete.
Moreover, before conducting research in the area, we as a group researched a bit to have an idea what to expect from and where to go in the neighborhood. Most of the reviews we read were very negative, saying that it is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City and the street battles and fights are very common in the surrounding areas. However, what we have seen and what we have read are pretty different. It was not that dangerous. Even though we were mostly on the main streets you still do not get that weird feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.
In addition, on our journey in the Crown Heights, in a very close distance of couple of blocks we saw five different churches of different sects and religions. Even though it is known for its Jamaican population, there is also a considerable number of Hasidic Jews. Also, we walked on the streets where the Labor Day parade happens, which is an annual celebration of Labor Day by West Indians. Every year it attracts around three million people and it has a very significant importance on keeping their culture in New York City.
All in all, we were left with an impression of Crown Heights as an extremely diverse and culturally rich area with much to offer a visitor of New York City.
April 11 photos:
(Above) Alex Zank is standing in front of Hamilton’s home; the stop was one of his more favorite places because he learned that Hamilton was also a journalist.
(Below) The group is walking around Washington Heights during one of the peer-guided tour.
April 11: Tour of Washington Heights, the wonders of Hamilton
By Adam Montee and Stephen Fisher
Wednesday was bittersweet. It was half way through our week and we were able to navigate the city pretty well. The subway was not a new and confusing underground wonder anymore. It was just another part of our New York life. In addition to the subway, we learned a lot about the city at that point. We knew where most of the landmarks were by now. Before I left I really had no idea how the city worked, but being in the city even for a couple of day helped us understand how it operated. By now we had been to Central Park, the financial district, Chinatown, Harlem, Ellis Island, the East Village and anywhere else we might have gone on our own. While there was still a lot to discover, we had traveled far and wide over the island.
It had been mentioned at the beginning of this entry that Wednesday was a bittersweet day. This is because we were half way through our trip. We had half our trip behind us, and then it was back to the reality of school and work. At the same time, Wednesday was when the Dominican group gave our tour of Washington Heights. After that was over it was nice to have most of our work done. Even though our week was half way over, we had half a week to enjoy just the city.
We had two scheduled events on Wednesday. The first was a tour of the Alexander Hamilton House and the second was the aforementioned tour of Washington Heights. The Hamilton house was one of our favorite parts of the trip. It was really enjoyable seeing things that historic people actually used. Even though his house has been moved from its original place, it was so cool that it was still the same house from hundreds of years ago. Learning about Hamilton’s life was exciting as well. We all knew about some of his life from our videos we watched in class, but our tour guide was able to go in-depth about his later years, which was something we did not learn from the videos. Some of the facts about his house were amusing. Hamilton used his house for the last two years of his life as a retirement home of sorts. After his long and illustrious career in just about every profession that existed, he would use this house to throw parties and relax in the New York countryside. It was surreal to imagine that Hamilton Heights, nearly in the middle of Manhattan, was once considered the country.
After a short subway ride, we were at scheduled stop number two: Washington Heights. The tour was long, but it gave a good representation of the dichotomy of the area. The tour began in the more upscale section of Washington Heights, where upper-middle class families live. A gentleman we ran into on one our trips before the tour told us that there were many mixed-race couples that lived in that particular part of Washington Heights. We hit a couple of significant landmarks in Washington Heights, then walked through the part that was heavily-populated with Dominican immigrants. By far, my (Adam’s) favorite part of our tour was the food. We ate at Malecon, a Caribbean-style restaurant. It was hands-down my favorite food we ate on our trip.
April 10: walking around Chinatown; a taste of tenement housing
By Anna Gatton and Katie Davison
We started the day off with a tour of Chinatown led by Jake, Jacob, Alex and us. We took the group on a route around Chinatown and showed them the historical buildings including Confucius Plaza, a subsidized apartment building. Many of the occupants were elderly Chinese immigrants. The building towered over all other buildings in Chinatown. Many of the buildings were a mix of old and new architecture. We pointed out the abundance of banks in Chinatown. We accredited their presence to the fact that the Chinese have a high saving rate. They also pointed out the Buddhist Temple, which is home to the largest known Buddha statue in New York. The statue is 16 feet tall.
The tour walked us past Canal Street, which was filled with shops and food markets. There were fresh fish markets as well as produce stands aligning the streets. Many of the shops sold knock-off perfumes, belts, scarfs and other NYC souvenirs. We, along with many other students, shopped up and down Canal Street, haggling with the shop owners for the best price on their items.
The tour ended at an authentic Chinese restaurant called Yummy Noodle. The class experienced a wide variety of food, ranging from fried rice to chicken feet.
When walking through Chinatown we noticed that the area didn’t seem to be as diverse as other areas. It consisted mainly of Chinese immigrants and tourists. This may be because the Chinese immigrants that immigrate only tend to hire each other. We also noticed that almost everything was written in Mandarin, Min or Cantonese.
Overall, Chinatown seemed to be very different from the rest of New York and a fun place to visit.
After we finished the tour of Chinatown we headed toward the Tenement Museum. The museum had a tenement apartment building on display in Manhattan’s lower east side that was home to nearly 7,000 working class immigrants. The building was built in 1863. Our tour guided us through the building where we imagined what life would be like for working-class citizens in the late 1800s. The apartments consisted of one bedroom, a small kitchen and a living room; no bathroom was in the building until the early 1900s. There could have been multiple families living in one apartment at any point in time. People slept anywhere there was shelter.
The Levine family lived in the building in the early 1900s and owned their own garment workshop that they ran out of their living room. They had to squeeze their large family into a tiny bedroom and kitchen because making an income meant giving up part of their living space. Giving up some living space in order to make money was the only way that the family could celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday instead of being forced to work in a sweatshop. During the turn of the 20th century the lower east side was the most-densely populated place in the world, so it was difficult for many to make a living and keep their religion sacred. This is why the Levine family started their own business.
April 9: the island of hope and tears
By Margaret Baker and Maria Stratan
Our day started, as Arrita would say “In the middle of the night!” also known as 6 a.m. We met in the hotel lobby by 7 a.m. and were very enthusiastic to start our adventure to Ellis Island. Of course not all of us were able to start our mornings at 7 in the morning, so we left without Chris and Dan who later forgot their tickets to the ferry that would take us to Ellis Island. After we got off the subway and walked to the ferry we soon realized it was a very windy day. While boarding the ferry Maggie, Stephen and Jacob decided to go to the top of the boat and admire the skyline of the city. As we approached our first stop, Liberty Island, Maggie and Stephen thought that this was included in today’s itinerary, so by accident they decided to get off the boat while the rest of the group continued on to Ellis Island. They realized minutes later while on the island they were not supposed to get off and ended up stranded for a period of time, which lead to a very worried Professor Avin. Nonetheless, Stephen and Maggie agreed Lady Liberty was as big as they thought she would be.
Twenty minutes later we had all reached Ellis Island. We learned that Ellis Island today represents the symbol of the history of immigration in the U.S., where millions of immigrants made their entrance to the country. The museum tried to reflect as clearly as possible the experiences the poor immigrants were facing, but no museum in the world can fully describe the feelings, suffering, uncertainty and miserable conditions these immigrants endured to obtain a better life. Just about all of us took an audio tour around the main building and discovered how immigrants came into the country. Immigrants had to pass through medical, psychological, literacy, legal and economic well-being assessment tests. One of the most interesting methods was the use of button hooks for eye exams. Medical examiners would use the button hooks to look for the infectious disease called Trachoma. If you did not pass through these tests you would be sent to the trial room and Ellis Island’s Board of Special Inquiry would decide if you were allowed access ten percent of immigrants saw that room and two percent were deported for legal and medical issues that they could not defend. Imagine a crowded place with thousands of immigrants waiting with terror to pass these examinations in order to join their relatives already living in U.S. or to be sent back from the place they came. This was Ellis Island –the island of hope and tears.
After Scott took his 599thpicture we finished the tour. We were ready to get back to the city and explore. A group of us went to find Wall Street after exploring Ellis Island. Wall Street was huge and you could feel the success of the city there. By watching the busy people and looking at the buildings of new and old architecture one could appreciate just how far New York and America has come. We saw the New York Stock Exchange, the Freedom Towers being constructed, Trinity Church, the Federal Reserve and ate at a very inexpensive local pizzeria that was outstanding.
Later on, our class met with Director of Research at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation Doug Hamilton. The foundation’s mission is to increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America’s future and to accelerate sustainable bipartisan solutions. The founder, Pete Peterson, is in his 80s and has now spent over 50 years working in business and public service. He chaired many companies and organizations before starting the foundation which focuses on increasing the positive aspects of public policies.
Peterson was himself a Greek immigrant who succeeded in life because he, according to Hamilton, “didn’t know the meaning of enough.” Hamilton knew that we were researching immigration so he gave us some insightful information about immigration in New York. We concluded that New York City is definitely the city of immigration since one in five people of its residents being born in other countries. New York continues to be attractive for immigrants due to its vibrant economy, financial opportunities, employment and also because it is considered to be more accepting of immigrants.
The last part of our meeting with Hamilton was open to questions, in which he gave us advice that every small decision should lead to the big picture of our career. A take-away quote made by Hamilton in the meeting was: “Economics is a painful elaboration of the obvious!” He wished us luck with our futures and we were on our way.
After all of this we decided that the day was not over yet and continued to adventure around the city…
April 8: Easter in Harlem and a view of NYC from above
By Jacob Korinek and Jake Jones
Sunday, April 8 was Easter. Many New Yorkers celebrate this holiday in mass. Most churches required tickets to get into every service that day. There were a wide variety of services, too. Some churches offered traditional services while others offered more contemporary music like rock and roll or jazz. The main attraction is the Easter Parade. The city blocked off a street and allowed people to show off their festive Easter attire and offered prizes to the most unique.
As a group, we all went on a walking tour of Harlem. Our tour guide started the tour by describing the history of Harlem. According to our guide, Harlem was founded in 1658 by the Dutch. It remained very wide open because of limited transportation until the 1870s. After that point it slowly became more established until 1904 when the Integral Rapid Transit (IRT) system was build and provided easy access from lower Manhattan. Through the 20s it was one of the only places in New York to legally buy liquor during prohibition. After the stock market crash, it became a predominantly black area. Through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s it had extremely high crime rates and was a very dangerous place to live. It was cleaned up by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after he was elected in 1994.
During the tour, we walked all throughout Harlem, staying mainly on Lenox Avenue and Seventh Avenue. Our guide stopped us on almost every block to give us the history of the area or a specific building. One of our favorite places he pointed out was the Savoy Club. It was a music club that was accepting of both whites and blacks during the 1920s. It was interesting to hear of all the famous musicians that played in this club simply because it did not discriminate against blacks. The other really interesting aspect of this tour was how real our guide made the gentrification of Harlem. He told us a story about his girlfriend’s apartment and how she was forced out because rent kept going up. We’ve read about gentrification extensively in class but we got to see it in real life.
To end the day, a group of us went to Rockefeller Center to enjoy the view of the city. This was one of the places where tourists congregated and it was interesting to see people from all over the world who were excited to do the same thing. Many languages could be heard as we waited in line to get a view of New York City from 70 stories high. Once we got to the top, the view was amazing as it offered a 360-degree view of the brightest city we had ever seen. We probably spent almost an hour at the top, gazing out into the city, taking pictures and trying to figure out which buildings were which. This was one of the more enjoyable tourist attractions we did and was something that provided great memories.