Tiffany visits the Tenement Museum in New York with its President, Kevin Jennings. Located at 97 and 103 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the museum is formed from two historical tenement buildings, which were home to an estimated 15,000 immigrants from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 2011.
Starting in 97 Orchard street, they discuss the aims of the Tenement Museum: is it political?; does and should the museum take sides?; the history of immigration policy; the difficulties in talking about immigration today — when society is so divided and issue so emotional — and the importance of doing so.
Kevin tells us about the families who lived in these tenements: Nathalie and Julius Gumpertz who were East Prussian immigrants, who lived there in the 1870s. In 1874, after the Panic of 1873, a major economic depression, Julius left for work never to return, leaving Nathalie alone with four young children. We hear about Adolfo and Rosaria Baldizzi, who came from Sicily. Rosario arrived undocumented and illegally. She would eventually become a legal citizen of the United States.
Moving on to 103 Orchard street, we hear about Kalman and Regina Epstein, who were Holocaust survivors, and among the first World War II refugees to be allowed into the United States, and their daughter Bella; whose memories helped decorate and furnish the apartment. Taking us up to the recent past, Tiffany and Kevin visit the old apartment of the Wong family. Mrs. Wong, who was from Southern China, arrived in New York from Hong Kong in 1965 with her two daughters, Yat Ping and Alison, after the Hart Cellar Act, which allowed for increased Asian immigration. Mrs Wong worked in the garment industry and in 1973 she became a citizen of the United States.
Pictures of the street, apartments, museum, and the families are on our Instagram and Twitter account: @behindthemuseum
This episode of Behind the Scenes at the Museum was written and presented by Tiffany Jenkins, recorded by Jared Arnold, and produced by Jac Phillimore.