In this month’s edition of MEET THE TENEMENT MUSEUM STAFF, we profile the individual who is largely responsible for creating and putting together the content that appears on the very blog you are currently reading. Gemma Solomons is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Besides working at a museum that tells the story of American Immigration, Gemma herself has her own personal immigrant story to share.
TM: What is your title?
GS: I am the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the Tenement Museum.
TM: What are your job responsibilities?
GS: I write most of the blog posts, compile the weekly and monthly newsletters, and run the social media platforms on the days I’m here.
TM: Where did you work before coming to The Tenement Museum?
GS: In the last few years I have worked every end of the “prestigious career” spectrum, which I feel is pretty typical for my generation, especially while still in school. For example, I was the Aquatics Director at the British Swim School in Florida, and the year before I worked the night shift in an assembly line at a vegan bread factory in Colorado.
TM: Most interesting story related to your job since starting here?
GS: I’m fortunate enough to have started working for the Tenement Museum right as we were getting to announce the new expansion, so getting to see how a new museum exhibition is developed from the inside has been really fascinating, and the research I’ve done to create relevant content to the new stories has been a lot of fun. Also, that day we had to evacuate 108 because we all nearly passed out from paint fumes – that was an interesting day.
TM: What is your family’s immigrant history?
GS: We moved to the United States in 1992, and as far as I’m aware my family had lived in England for several generations with the occasional off-shoot, like a great-grandmother from Ireland, etc. There’s some Russian and Lithuanian ancestry in there somewhere, or so I’m told, but I’m not sure how it got there. Growing up, I heard a lot of first-hand accounts about my more recent relatives that not only imbued some sort of odd yet reverent British pride, but also reflected who I am as much as knowing my family history generations down the line. When friends find out I had a great-grandfather who used to con tourists on Blackpool Pier by taking their money and then photographing them with a broken camera, they aren’t all that surprised. I do know at least one branch of my family tree which would be tough to trace, as my paternal grandfather’s name was John Smith.
TM: Where did you grow up?
GS: I grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, which was actually a swamp before 1960. It’s a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, and I can’t recall anything exciting happening in the 15 consecutive years I grew up there. One of the things I love about New York City, and about the Tenement Museum, is the existence of actual history, because there was none where I grew up. Really, the oldest building in town was this supermarket down the street from my home, and when the roof caved in after Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, they just tore the whole thing down instead of trying to renovate it. It wasn’t paradise but they literally put up a parking lot.
TM: What do you like doing in your free time?
GS: This is going to make me sound like a suck-up but I really enjoy going to museums. Not to keep ragging on my hometown but growing up, the only museum we went to was this children’s science museum where you got to do things like “Stand Inside a Bubble” (which was awesome, but, you know, some variety would’ve been nice).
I’m an amateur photographer, and I’ve only lived in New York since January, so I’m still working on getting all the tourist-y things out the way and blowing up my Instagram feed. I also try to write in my free time but it rarely ever actually happens.
TM: You became an American Citizen in 2015 despite being born and essentially raised here. What are some of the differences you encountered before citizenship and after citizenship?
GS: HOO BOY. The thing about not being a U.S., Citizen but still being white and speaking English, is you don’t even realize you’re not an American until you turn 16 and you’re told you’re not actually allowed to get your driver’s license. Or get a job. Or get state financial aid. Or qualify for most scholarships. Or, if you’re still feeling patriotic after being denied all that, the chance to vote. It was an added level of stress to an already pretty stressful time. The whole process of becoming a citizen did teach me valuable life lessons such as patience when dealing with bureaucracy and the best times to visit the DMV, but I am happy to be an American citizen now. It turns out, after struggling through it all for almost a decade, the urge to vote actually gets stronger.
TM: Favorite Tenement Museum tour and why?
GS: I haven’t done all the tours yet, but “Meet Victoria” was just a blast and so well-done. And “Hard Times” is great, especially when the tour is being lead by Jon Pace.
TM: Favorite place to go in the Lower East Side?
GS: Kossar’s. I have a real bagel problem, wherein if I’m not eating a bagel I have a real problem.
To read more about Gemma’s personal immigration story, you can read her blog from earlier this year here.
- Post by Jon Pace, Communications Manager at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum