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ONTO TONIGHT’S POST!
I have lived here for almost eight years now, and very very rarely do I partake in “touristy” activities. I mean, heck I don’t even go above 14th Street unless aaaabsolutely necessary. Not to mention, I avoid Times Square like the plague.
I guess I just have settled into my New York ways.
So, having my mom in town was the perfect excuse to dust off my MetroCard and paint the town red!
A super fast recap: We saw Hamilton on Broadway. This was truly the catalyst of her coming in. It was hands down THE best piece of theater I’ve ever experienced. The music — phenomenal. (Listen here). And side note — am I the only one who didn’t know that Alexander Hamilton died in a freaking duel?!! I digress.
We went to several museums…
The Whitney in MeatPacking, where we went to an Andy Warhol exhibit. The view from the roof was just spectacular.
The Cloisters waaay uptown, north of the Bronx. A hidden gem known only by locals that is a satellite museum of the MET. Made to look like a monastery, it houses religious art and artifacts.
We ate at some delicious restaurants – Tavern on the Green, Sant Ambroeus, Gramercy Tavern, City Bakery, and the Rock Center Cafe – and took my friends out to dinner at While We Were Young Kitchen.
We went to Rockefeller Center and saw the big Christmas tree. St. Patrick’s Cathedral for daily Mass. Strolled through the Union Square Christmas Market. Did some power shopping on Fifth Ave. Bartered like pros in Chinatown. And even hit up Times Square late one night, just to take in all the bright lights.
But my favorite thing we did, was visit the Tenement Museum in the East Village.
Twenty five years ago, the museum bought an old tenement house on Orchard Street that hadn’t been touched since the early 1900s. And they went in, preserved it, found out the history of the tenants who lived there (through primary and secondary sources), and then recreated what life was like for the immigrant families who lived there. It was such an eye opening experience.
We took the “Irish Outsiders” tour, which followed the Moores, who came over in 1869 from Ireland at the age of 17 and 18, during the potato famine. The young woman worked as a domestic servant and the young man did manual labor. But these Irish Catholics faced intense religious persecution, living in an all German-Protestant tenement building.
Coming from both Irish and German heritage, it was incredibly fascinating to hear what my ancestor’s lives could have been like. My mom told me that it reminded her of her grandparents’ story.
But to see what life was like back then — first of all, to think that famine was a real thing. Ireland lost a quarter of it’s population during the potato famine. And then infant mortality. And the horrendous living conditions: three, shared outhouses for the entire building. Having to carry buckets of water up four flights of stairs from the one pump outside. No electricity, or air conditioning. Life was hard. Really hard.
I left, thinking to myself, What would those people think if they were dropped into 2018? What would they think of life in America today?
I mean, the family we followed, they had one photograph of themselves. And it was a big deal. Here I am, with over 12,000 photos on my iPhone. I mean, yikes.
But there is so much more abundance for nearly all of us, verses what they experienced.
We have so much affordable food and clothing available to us, through supermarkets, low cost restaurants, and discount stores.
And everything is in excess – the fashion trends. The stuff we accumulate.
These families were living 8 people in a one bedroom apartment. Earning $5 a week at backbreaking jobs, and paying $10 a month in rent. They had just a few articles of clothing to their name. And if they were lucky, a book to read.
The shock they’d have, if they saw the way we lived.
Not to mention, the fact that we are now living in a Post-Christian era. Faith is simply not part of most people’s daily lives any more.
The Moores – when they immigrated to America, the first thing they did was find the neighborhood parish, so that they could be connected to a faith community.
Isn’t that something?
I’d love to sit down and talk to them, and just ask them about the role that faith played in their lives, because I’m willing to bet, we could sure learn a lot. The foundational role faith played, not just to their identity, but to their community – to think of how far our society has strayed.
But case in point, the Moore family only lived in that German tenement building for one year. They then moved to an Irish Catholic neighborhood in the Village, which just goes to show how important a faith community was back then.
And one final thing. Their story had a happy ending. One filled with hope and inspiration. The Moores eventually became homeowners in Queens. They had worked hard all their lives – earning and saving at just $5 a week, but worked their way up. Never giving up. Never asking for a hand out or a hand up. They prided themselves in the work that they did. And it paid off, in a big way.
This was way before the welfare system started in 1935. And part of me wonders, how that family’s trajectory would have been different, if welfare programs were prominent. The fact is, people survived through multiple jobs and the kindness of others around them, often within their parishes and church communities. The work ethic of these immigrants in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s enriched our national identity as a land of opportunity where people can improve their status through initiative and hard work, as so many of these industrious folks did, as evidenced by the Moores.
I’m so glad the Tenement Museum is out there. Because it’s teaching us so much, simply by telling the stories of those who have gone before us.
I’m walking away with an overwhelming and renewed sense of gratitude. For everything in life that I have grown so accustomed to that I take for granted without even thinking about it.
The blessings and privileges we have, living in the United States of America, are ones that people dreamed of. That risked their lives for. That sacrificed and gave up everything to obtain. And still do. How blessed we are, and we don’t even know it.
Because at the end of the day, we are all immigrants. Our diversity is our strength and our uniqueness. Our optimism is part of our DNA.
What do you think the Moores would be the most shocked to see in 2018?
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