I’ve spent the morning talking with staff and members of the extended Museum community as well as those from further afield who want us to know that they wish the Tenement Museum well. Many wonder how yesterday’s election will impact our work; they are concerned as well with whether it will vex our spirit. The first half of that inquiry is generally easy to answer, though it will take renewed effort on all our parts to accomplish.
The Tenement Museum has always been about how people from many nations brought their dreams to this country; and about how Americans became a people. All our programs are based in the premise that the nation continues to shape and re-shape its identity. Those of us who are longer-settled Americans need to be accepting of newcomers bringing their hopes to a new land and dedicating their individual and family struggles to the common future that all of us continue to build together. We know that many voters yesterday sought to distance themselves from what we at the Museum regard as this nation’s foundational principle—that immigration allows us to become more than we already are as a people. This is a history museum. We explain to visitors that Americans in the past sometimes lost confidence in their national future and lashed out against immigrants in reaction. We try to help visitors appreciate that immigrants often had to build new lives in the face of hostility. Generations of newcomers prevailed even in these circumstances; it is our strong hope that today’s immigrants will prevail as well.
I know that many of us wonder where we, as an institution and as individuals, go from here. I hope we can redouble our efforts to amplify the voices of the past. I hope that we can individually find reassurance in the importance of doing this necessary work. Renewing our shared commitment to tell stories of the American past can help us comfort and strengthen one another—and shape America’s future.
- Morris J. Vogel, President of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum