Visitors and fans of the Tenement Museum know that, up until now, we have been committed to telling the stories of 97 Orchard Street, a building that shuttered as a residence in 1935. However, as time has progressed, this end date has become increasingly frustrating for us as an educational enterprise. While 1935 was a practical year for landlord Moses Halpern to close 97 as a residence, it is an inconvenient year for us as an institution that wants to discuss the ongoing experiences of immigration. To continue our commitment to the shared experiences of immigrants through American history, we are embarking on several new projects, including an upcoming digital exhibit called, “Your Stories, Our Stories,” that collects personal object memories from modern day immigrants and migrants to NYC.
The exhibit will eventually be open to user submissions, but for now we are reaching out to our friends all across New York City to contribute stories. One of our great collaborators is caribBEING a Caribbean culture, arts and heritage organization whose mission is to illuminate the Caribbean experience in NYC. caribBEING operates out of Flatbush, Brooklyn, where a large population of West Indian immigrants and their descendants have settled. The Caribbean Diaspora includes immigrants from Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua-Barbuda, Grenada, St. Vincent, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Cuba to name a few. Like so many immigrant groups, there are a wide variety of languages, cultures and traditions coming from this region, but they have a long history in NYC.
I went to Midwood Senior Center to interview some of these community members at an event sponsored by caribBEING. One of the people I met was Yves Daniel Lundy. When I asked him what object or item made him remember Haiti, where he came from at age 14 in 1966, he didn’t miss a beat. “Kompa, the Haitian folklore [traditional] music… I came here in 1966, but deep down in my heart, I still think about home. Every time I hear my music, Kompa, I cannot see myself sitting down. I have to get up, be in the front and dance.”
When I returned home from Flatbush that afternoon, I knew I had to check out Kompa music. I found a great webpage devoted to it, and I feel like it means so much more to me now that I can imagine my new friend Yves Daniel dancing to it. I’m ready to dance to it, too! Check it out: http://www.haitianmusic.net/popular-haitian-music/kompa/
If you are interested in music like Kompa, dancing, Carnival, Caribbean food, or what it’s like to be a West Indian immigrant, you should check out caribBEING’s events! If you are interested in how that community fits into NYC in general, you should come to the Tenement Talk we are co-hosting with them this June 10th. June is Caribbean Hertiage Month so keep a look out for plenty of ways to celebrate.
“Your Stories, Our Stories” is a powerful project. In the many people I’ve interviewed so far, I’ve seen glimpses of so many triumphs and heartaches. Our belongings remind us not only of where we’ve been, but how we’ve become who we are. If you have a story you’d like to contribute, whether you are an immigrant or the grandchild of one, I do hope you’ll reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
–Posted by Emily Gallagher, Community Outreach Coordinator