Wednesday, February 19, 2020

New York City reminds us what made America great: immigrants

"American Tragedy" by Philip Evergood

     New York City is crawling with immigrants. My wife and I popped into town for a long Valentine’s Day weekend and let me tell you: foreigners everywhere. From the moment we hopped into a cab at the airport — “I’m a tall man!” the driver laughed, in a thick accent, as I tried to jam myself in the seat behind him — to our last breakfast Monday morning at an Italian bakery on Bleecker Street, the American values that our president lauds and his supporters venerate are corrupted by alien cultures. Thank God.
     Our older son suggested we meed him at Jing Fong — Chinese, don’t you know. The first of 16 eating establishments visited over four days. Of those, 15 were ethnic — French, Jewish, Ukrainian, Georgian, Thai — a whirl of flavors and dishes, from pate to pig’s ears, fare likely to strike terror into certain sheltered red, white and blue hearts.
     While the food at Jing Fong was excellent, the enormous dining room was almost empty. Maybe because it was 3 p.m. But Chinese restaurants and Chinatowns across the country are seeing a drop in business, due to fear of the coronavirus. A laughable concern, but far above most fears related to outsiders, since there actually is a coronavirus. Not a rational reason to avoid a Chinese restaurant, but then I’ve never heard rationality lauded as one of the cherished American ideals we are trying to recover in our return to greatness.
     We slid over to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. In 1988, a pair of women looking for a building to showcase the torrent of immigrants into New York stumbled upon 97 Orchard Street, an 1863 tenement that had sat empty for more than 50 years; cited for fire code violations in 1935, the owner chose to evict rather than renovate.
     We signed up for the “Hard Times” tour of rooms that belonged to the Gumpertz family, Jews who came here from Prussia in 1873, and the Baldizzis, immigrating from Italy in the 1920s. Neither family were what Donald Trump would call “the best people.” Both received public aid. But they lived and loved and struggled toward middle class comfort, symbolized by the faux broadloom rug in worn linoleum on the Baldizzi kitchen floor. Heartbreaking.

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  1. To feel comfortable in America's multicultural climate, is to feel comfortable on planet earth. Let the frightened cower in the corners, trembling, dripping ignorance and fear; I'll be in the piazza, dancing.

  2. Did you visit the Statue of Bigotry? Is it still there?

  3. Philip Evergood’s “An American Tragedy,” depicting Chicago’s Memorial Day Massacre, (in which police fired into a crowd of steelworkers and killed ten, seven of whom were shot in the back) is also the image on the cover of "The Last Great Strike" by Ahmed White, an excellent book about labor rights, the CIO, and the 1937 steel strike.

    In the early Sixties, my beatnik uncle was tearing out the linoleum in the kitchen of a Manhattan tenement when he uncovered a layer of New York newspapers with screaming headlines about the carnage in Chicago. He salvaged and preserved them, and later incorporated them into artwork depicting the rise of organized labor in the Thirties. He was just seven years old on that tragic day.


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