Becoming an American on Orchard Street
April 10, 2013

Here at the Tenement Museum, we’re reminded every day that history surrounds us. Though it can sometimes feel foreign, the past is relevant, accessible, and often surprisingly familiar! That’s why we work so hard to create bridges between history and the present day.

Yesterday’s naturalization ceremony hosted here at the Museum is a perfect example. Fifteen immigrants from thirteen nations, including China, the Czech Republic, Nigeria and the Philippines, were sworn in as U.S. citizens, following in the footsteps of thousands of past residents of the Lower East Side. This event was particularly special for the Museum, as one of our own staff members, Raj Varma, was among the new citizens!

Raj Varma, at right, taking the Oath of Allegiance

Raj Varma, at right, taking the Oath of Allegiance

Raj is a New Zealander by birth who has served as an Educator at the Museum since 2008. If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending one of his tours, you know that Raj has a great sense of humor and a knack for storytelling (these qualities have also served him well in his career as an actor.)

As Raj and his coworkers introduce visitors from around the world to the stories of 97 Orchard Street, they reveal striking similarities between the experiences of contemporary immigrants and their predecessors. At the same time, they explain how much has changed–fortunately, swill milk is no longer being sold on the Lower East Side!

A judge swears in a new citizen in New York City c.1910

A judge swears in a new citizen in New York City c.1910; Image via Wikipedia

When the ceremony came to a close yesterday, Raj and the other new citizens were the center of attention as friends, family, and media gathered to ask questions and snap photos.

Raj and his wife Jess celebrating after the ceremony

Raj and his wife Jess celebrating after the ceremony

Whether we’re sharing the stories of a century ago, or celebrating our country’s newest citizens, it’s a privilege to witness the incredible diversity that built New York and continues to make it great.

Posted by Kira Garcia