Archive for the ‘books’ Category

What’s cooking in Corona

Friday, December 12th, 2008

A Healthy Taste of Corona is a new bilingual (English-Spanish) cookbook with more than 30 recipes from the neighborhood’s cultures. It’s a project of the Heart of Corona Initiative and focuses on nutritionally sound versions of traditional dishes, with photos and stories.

They’re having a book launch party, with tastings and cultural performances, from 3 to 5 pm Sunday, Dec. 14, at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. Free!

Read about Eldridge Street Synagogue

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Landmark of the SpiritA book party Sunday will celebrate the publication by Yale University Press of Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue by The Museum at Eldridge Street‘s Vice President for Education, Annie Polland. They say “Polland uses elements of the building’s architecture to shine new light on the religious life of immigrant Jews and to analyze the significance of this special building within the larger American-Jewish experience.”

The reception is from 2 to 4 pm Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge St; RSVP at the museum’s website.

Irish stories

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Historian Peter Quinn (Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America, Banished Children of Eve) will talk about his life, writings, and struggles of the Irish in New York with Terry Golway next Monday at the Museum of the City of New York. Admission is $9 for nonmembers, and you can buy tickets ahead of time in case it sells out. The program is at 6:30 pm Monday, Dec. 2, at the MCNY, Fifth Ave at 103rd St.

Chinatown noir

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Back in October, Steven Kurutz of the Times interviewed writer Henry Chang, who was born and raised in Chinatown, about his detective novels Chinatown Beat and Year of the Dog. This is a great opportunity to get a peek inside a Chinatown that’s not open to tourists, to say the least. “I tried to make the atmosphere as real as possible,” Chang says.

Chang will read from Year of the Dog, published this month by Soho Press, at 7 pm Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Museum of Chinese in America, 70 Mulberry St, 2nd floor. Free.

Italian food

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum presents Food and the Italian-American Experience, a conversation with authors Laura Schenone (The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family), and Louise Fili (Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best) about their own roots and the role of food in Italian immigrant culture. The talk is at 6:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 23 at the museum bookstore, 108 Orchard St. RSVP to events(at) The talk is free; you’re on your own for dinner.

Another book I’d like to read: Korean grocers

Friday, September 5th, 2008

In the New York Times’s City Room blog, Sewell Chan discusses sociologist Pyong Gap Min’s new book,  Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival: Korean Greengrocers in New York City. The book covers the history of Korean grocers in New York (did you know that there were only 400 Koreans in New York in 1960?) and the problems of discrimination at the Hunts Point produce market, tensions with the African-American community in many neighborhoods, and labor issues with Latino employees. The issues are complex, and while I haven’t read the book, I definitely recommend Chan’s column.

Inheriting the City

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

The May 14 panel discussion to introduce Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age at CUNY’s Graduate Center in Manhattan, was encouraging—with a few caveats.

The new book, by John Mollenkopf, Philip Kasinitz, Mary Waters, and Jennifer Holdaway and published by Russell Sage Foundation and Harvard University Press, presents the results of what the Graduate Center calls “the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of second-generation immigrants in New York City.”

Basically, second-generation New Yorkers whose parents were immigrants are doing better than their parents, and sometimes better than native-born New Yorkers, although Dominicans are not blazing ahead to the degree those of Chinese and Russian Jewish background are. (The authors also studied offspring of West Indian and South American immigrants.) They are overwhelmingly fluent in English and don’t have the occupational segregation of their parents’ generation.

Sewell Chan of the New York Times, who moderated a Q&A with the panel, sums up the study’s results here. A few things from the discussion he didn’t mention:

It’s possible that the third generation will not see the same gains. Sayu Bhojwani, former commissioner with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, who was born in India and grew up in Belize, said, “Part of the motivation comes from watching our parents work so hard,” which presumably won’t be the case for the second generation’s children.

And while the study found that “they are not ‘torn between two worlds’—language and transnational ties decline quickly,” Bhojwani felt that the young people surveyed may have downplayed tensions. For South Asians, she said, “there is a sense of gratitude to be here,” which may cloud their perspective about problems and challenges. And despite gains, skin color still makes a difference in how both immigrants and children of native New Yorkers are treated.

Yet the second generation holds certain advantages over children of native New Yorkers. While assimilated in school and work, they tend to be less “American” at home, living with their parents longer (obviously a huge advantage in New York) and drawing on a community of support—choosing among elements of both worlds. They also may take advantage of policies and programs originally intended to help native minority groups.

Author Philip Kasinitz spoke of the competition for space between the second-generation immigrants and the native-born populations: “This New York competition for space underlies a lot.” But that’s been the story for centuries. Like those before them, he said, this generation will revitalize the city, and “leave a new inheritance for others to follow.”

Crossing Borders: a panel of writers

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

On May 2, the PEN World Voices Festival presented a panel called “Crossing Borders,” with novelist Ana Castillo of Chicago and New Mexico, who read from The Guardians; Daniel Kehlmann of Germany, author of the novel Measuring the World; and journalist and travel writer Lieve Joris (The Rebels’ Hour) of Belgium. The moderator was Lila Azam Zanganeh of Le Monde.

It was a fun, stimulating discussion about crossing borders physically and mentally. Daniel Kehlmann’s novel is about two 19th-century Germans: mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. (As an audience member pointed out, the story crosses the border between humanities and science.) Kehlmann says it’s a novel about freedom and the modes of freedom—for instance, to think and to move. Gauss, who doesn’t travel anywhere, is in fact the freer of the two; in his work, he is fearless in venturing beyond accepted truths. Humboldt, who travels the world, never lets go of the preconceptions of his culture.

Kehlmann said that American reviews always seemed to mention the length of his novel: “They seem surprised that a novel could be so short.” (It’s 272 pp.) But Ana Castillo said her novels were short, and she didn’t get that reaction. Could it be that reviewers expect different things from Germans than from Mexican Americans?

Castillo, whose most recent novel concerns travels across the U.S.-Mexico border and the lives of illegal immigrants, focused on the marginalization of people and cultures by the dominant culture; the history of colonization, she said, consists of “always being moved to the border.” She said that everyone has an idea of what the United States is, but reiterated that diversity is here already; as an American of Mexican heritage, she feels she needs to constantly remind people “we are here”—and have been here for some time.

When you think about it, colonialism is a different form of immigration, immigration turned inside out. It’s a big issue for Lieve Joris. Her grandfather had been a missionary in the Belgian Congo (at least, I think I have that correct), and she has spent years there, traveling into her personal history. Her quest, she said, was to “sit beside the Congolese and look at the landscape together,” without politics dictating different ways of seeing. But no matter how much time she spends there, she said, “When they look at me they know I have a return ticket,” and that is the great difference between them.

An audience member asked how borders could be “healed.” Castillo said she could only try to do it one book at a time, but that it sometimes felt like preaching to the choir. She cited an reader review that said, “I read Ana Castillo’s book to see if it would change my mind, and it didn’t.”

[An aside: this made me think again about the movie The Visitor. Is it just another feel-good-liberal choir-preaching? To me, it feels honest. It’s not that immigrants come to save the benighted white man; he saves himself by opening up to them, to other people. That’s why I think it works more as a metaphor for U.S. immigration policy than as a case study.]

Despite the new concrete walls going up these days, it’s easier than ever to cross borders physically. What’s thrilling about literature is its ability to help us cross them mentally. You could spend your whole life in Chicago, and after reading a novel by Ana Castillo, find yourself in a different city without leaving your home. The world just keeps on expanding within you.

At the same time, you can see why natives may fear those they see as invaders. When people cross borders, whether to exploit minerals or pick fruit, they bring their world with them. As Lieve Joris said, “Belgium is 80 times bigger to me now that I’ve been to Congo.”