Archive for August, 2008

Junta Hispana

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

This weekend’s activity in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park (from 11 am to 6 pm Sunday, August 17) is Junta Hispana, a “festival to educate community on health issues and the uniqueness and beauty of each country. Includes cultural music and dance performances,” according to the parks department website. That’s all the info I find, so it may be kind of thrown together. It’ll be at Festival Square in the park; call (718) 760-6565 for more info.

The Moore family at 97 Orchard

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

First of all, you had to take the back stairs into the privy yard to use the privy—one of four to six outhouses. You also had to come down to this yard to get water for any purpose at all; it had the only spigot serving the building. On the first floor, next to the yard, was Schneider’s Saloon. If it was at all like New York bars today, you might not always be in the mood for its company.

But that’s how it was in 1869 at 97 Orchard Street, and these conditions were more generous than the law mandated—the sewer was even flushed (into the East River) once a week.

My group is standing in the back yard of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. This is the new Irish family tour that the museum debuted on June 17. Our guide, Ya Yun Teng, takes us up the back stairs to the fourth floor and, first, into a “ruin” apartment. (The building was shuttered in 1935 and left untouched until the tenement museum took it over in 1988.)

In an interior window—a law passed in 1901 specified that each room must have a window, but only one room in an apartment actually opened to the outdoors—we watch slides while we listen to period songs that give a flavor of life for immigrants at the time, such as “Thousands Are Sailing,” which goes along with the “American wake” they’d throw in Ireland the night before a family left for the States, probably never to return.

Next we proceed into the new family apartment, set up to show the living experience of Joseph and Bridget Moore and their three daughters (Mary, 4, Jane, 3, and baby Agnes), who lived somewhere in the building in 1869. The afternoon light is dim; they would have had to rely on kerosene lamps. The bed takes up about half the bedroom, in the back; the rest of the room is crowded with linens and trunks.

The kitchen table, in the middle room, is spread with bread, potatoes, onions, and ceramic bottles of beer. The kitchen also holds the washbasin and a clothesline, with stockings and tiny girls’ dresses, by the large coal stove. It’s a hot day, and it’s easy to imagine how smoky and close it must have been, especially if you were wearing a long skirt.

Imagine trying to take care of two toddlers and a baby in that space.

Then there’s the central issue of the milk, which you’d have to buy every day—there’s no refrigerator. It was often contaminated; this was probably the cause of baby Agnes’s scrofula and malnutrition. She was sick pretty much from birth, and she died in the apartment before she was six months old.

Her funeral vigil is arranged in the front room, with a circle of chairs. This parlor is much lighter (having a true window) and not as cramped. The space and its careful decor seem to represent the family’s aspirations, yet now it’s a scene of sorrow. Our guide turns on a recording of a woman keening a song of mourning.

The plain white wooden coffin sits on a cloth-covered table. A rosary lies on top of it. It’s so very small, almost as tall as it is long.

The apartment at 97 Orchard was a step up for the Moores from their previous place in Five Points. But they weren’t able to stay long, less than a year. They moved from here to 224 Elizabeth Street, which the New York Times described as an “area of destitution.” Bridget gave birth to five more daughters, only two of whom survived.

Their grim story was a common one. Poor and often unwelcome, the Irish (among others) had to struggle hard in this city, and some of them didn’t make it.

Eventually, though, things got better; the tour continues in the apartment next door where the Katz family lived in the 1920s and ’30s. Milk got pasteurized. Disease became less mysterious, and hygiene bloomed. Gaslight and indoor plumbing arrived.

End of tour. Now you can check your cellphones and complain that you just had to spend an hour without air conditioning.

Questions? Take the tour yourself and learn much more! You can also see how they put it together on the museum’s Flickr page.

Today! Stories from Ellis Island

Friday, August 8th, 2008

With Nothing But a Dream: Stories from Ellis Island is an Origins Project from the City Lights Youth Theater, being presented at noon and 2 pm Friday and Saturday, August 8–9, at Ellis Island. The play, written by theater members and playwright Dana Leslie Goldstein, is set in 1918 and based on the stories of actual immigrants to Ellis Island. You can read more about the production in the short Times story.

The show is free; call (212) 262-0200 for reservations. For schedule and fare information on ferry service to the island, visit or call (877) 523-9849.

Weekend celebrations

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The Indigenous People’s Day Celebration features Mexican dance and storytelling, 4 pm Saturday, August 9, in Stuyvesant Cove Park along the East River south of 23rd St.

This apparently is unrelated to the Indigenous People’s Day that is observed on October 12 as an alternative to Columbus Day; rather, according to Solar One, this marks the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous People (which happens to include some U.S. immigrants). The Stuyvesant Cove Park Association presents the Cetiliztli Nauhcampa Quetzalcoatl Dancers and storyteller Elvira Colorado.

The Dominican Day Parade is Sunday, August 10, from 1 to 4:30 pm, on Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Ave), starting at 36th St and dancing up to 56th.

Chifa and churches

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Arroz chaufa con mariscos and tallarines con verduras

Although we didn’t make a wide sampling of the menu, I can recommend La Union Restaurant 91-18 Corona Avenue (at 91st Place), Elmhurst, which serves the Peruvian Chinese food known as chifa. Tallarines con verduras, or vegetable lo mein ($8.50), had bright and crisp, sweet-flavored broccoli and snow peas on a generous bed of noodles. Arroz chaufa con mariscos, or seafood fried rice ($11.50), was mild but not boring, with mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid. Even the squid was tender.

The waitress brought a little bowl of a garlicky green picante sauce that was spicy-hot but at the same time eye-openingly refreshing. More experienced diners requested limes to squeeze over their food. The Peruvian beer was a pleasant lager.

Elmhurst has a couple of old churches. St. James Episcopal Church, built in 1735, is currently empty, but you can see a little stained glass from the outside. The Reformed Church of Newtown (an earlier name for Elmhurst, until developer Cord Meyer sought a more appealing name in 1896), at left, was founded in 1731 and rebuilt in 1832. It has offered services in several languages over the years, as the area population changes. (It used be predominantly Latino, but East Asians, particularly Chinese, have greater numbers now.)

And just down the block from La Union, there’s a Hindu temple (right).

According to The Neighborhoods of Queens, Elmhurst is one of the oldest areas in Queens, settled in 1652 and named Middleburgh for its first 31 years. The Queens Center mall, at Queens and Woodhaven Boulevards, employs a foreign-language assistance program for shoppers in Arabic, Hungarian, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish, among others.

Passport to Ecuador (and India and Mexico)

Monday, August 4th, 2008

The Queens Museum of Art is once again having Passport Fridays, an international dance, music, and film series. The programs are free, outdoors in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park by the museum (in case of rain, program moves inside).

Three events are left this year:

August 8: EcuadorAndrea Haenggi and dancers from the AMDaT ensemble present PLAF, an homage to Jasper Johns involving business chairs and dollar bills; Inkhay plays the music of the Andes, using musical instruments with roots in pre-Hispanic civilization; and the film is Qué tan lejos (How Much Further) (Ecuador, 2006; English subtitles), the story of a journey from Quito to Cuenca.

August 15: IndiaPaul Singh and his dancers, Singh & Dance, perform a new work; DJ Rekha merges Bhangra with hip-hop, accompanied by a dhol drummer and Bhangra instructor who will teach the audience some moves; and the film is The Namesake (USA/India, 2006), a story of Indian immigrants and their American-born children.

August 22: MexicoLaura Peterson Choreography examines shifting audience perspective and Anthony Whitehurst presents an excerpt from a piece about post-hurricane New Orleans; Mariachi Oro de Mexico provides the music; and La misma luna (Under the Same Moon) (USA/Mexico, 2007; English subtitles) tells the story of a 9-year-old Mexican boy who makes his way across the border to join his mother in the United States.

Celebrating Bolivian diversity

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Festival Diversidad Boliviana, the second annual Spanish-language program celebrating the anniversary of Bolivia’s independence, takes place from 3 to 7 pm Sunday, August 3, at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.

The program, organized by Zoraya Asturizaga with Hector Canonge, includes a screening of Fernando Vargas Villazón’s film Di Buen Día a Papá (without English subtitles!); Andean music by the group Khana; dance from the Centro Cultural Khana; and an exhibition of Alpaca wool textiles created by indigenous Aymaran women.

Dragon boats and more

Friday, August 1st, 2008

This weekend, August 2 and 3, is the 18th Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at the Lake in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens. Races are from 9 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, and entertainment includes an array of music and dance, including Mexican, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and Irish performances, as well as Shaolin Kung Fu demonstrations and traditional Chinese crafts. The dumpling-eating contest is at noon Sunday. Free.