Another of New York’s fascinating museums celebrates and documents the struggles and success stories of the millions of immigrants who fled war and revolution, mostly in Europe, in the early to mid-20th century for that chance to be welcomed into New York Harbour by the Statue of Liberty. Like Australia, the US has a huge immigrant-descended population, the stories of the first arrivals harrowing and heart-warming. Life was far from easy for these newcomers but the chance of achieving the American Dream kept their hopes alive.
The restored tenement at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side models the living circumstances of the generations of families who crammed into tiny rooms living meagre but hopeful lives as they eked out a living. In one instance the recollections of the daughter of an Italian immigrant family, the Baldizzis, helped museum staff recreate their 1930’s home. The tiny apartment was surprisingly homely with furnishings and fittings that evoked the modest but happy family life they led.
One of the missions of the museum is to promote tolerance and remind current generations of the difficult paths that immigrants have followed to access freedom, and the contribution they have made to their adopted country. Perhaps Donald Trump could join our former Prime Minister on a study tour of the Tenement Museum – especially as we Australians prepare to welcome and bestow citizenship on another batch of new settlers tomorrow, Australia Day.