Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tenement Talks Review: Becoming Americans

Last Thursday, the Orchard Street Contemporaries sponsored Becoming Americans, a Tenement Talk featuring Ilan Stavans, editor of the new book, and Pete Hamill, one of the many contributing writers.  We were thrilled to receive a packed house at 108 Orchard and our guests had the opportunity to enjoy food and beverages from our generous donors, the Infamous Yellow House, Sierra Mist, and Russ & Daughters. 

Mr. Stavans and Mr. Hamill spoke eloquently about the immigrant experience and what it means to be American, a question that is central to the museum’s mission.  Mr. Hamill, the son of Irish immigrants, proclaimed New York the “capital of cities for people not like you” and talked about the different things—from food to language to music—that immigrants have contributed to this country. 

Mr. Stavans, an immigrant himself who came to New York from Mexico in the 1980s, shared that sentiment, referring to America as a mosaic of immigrant cultures. With larger immigrant communities today than ever before, the story of immigration continues to unfold, changing what it means to be American. In Mr. Stavans words, America is always in the process of “becoming.” 

So who tells the stories of these many immigrants and new Americans?  As our guest speakers both pointed out, that is a task often left to the younger generations. 

This idea struck a chord with many members of the Orchard Street Contemporaries.  Our mission is to engage young people in the preservation of the Lower East Side’s immigrant history by connecting it with the vibrancy of the neighborhood today, as well as contemporary issues related to immigration. 

We are currently looking for more young professionals to join us in fulfilling our mission by organizing future events and programs.  If you’re interested, contact us at osc@tenement.org.

Becoming Americans features four centuries of immigrant writing and is available online or at the Museum Shop at 108 Orchard Street.

-- Posted by Kristin Shiller, a volunteer for the Tenement Museum’s young professionals group the Orchard Street Contemporaries.

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