Immigration has always been an important part of New York history. If one considers the story of the state from the Ice Age to Global Warming, then we and/or our ancestors all arrived here from somewhere else. Even if we were born an American and reside here now we may not have been born in New York. And if we were born in New York, we may not now live in the community where we were born or grew up. People move around a lot. How often do you hear the story of someone who has only been a resident of the community for 10, 20, 30 years and is still considered a newcomer?
Telling the story of immigration in New York provides an opportunity for us to connect with the world. What country doesn’t have residents in this state? So here is an opportunity for New York to tell the story about what it means to be a New Yorker by examining the lives of people who became New Yorkers.
Our Governor has called for New York to increase its exports as a way to improve the economy of the state. Some New York “exports” are sold to tourists. In effect, the selling of services to foreigners who are visiting the sights and sites of New York functions as an “export.” For example, at the Tourism Advocacy Day which I recently attended, Gavin Landry, the director of ILoveNY was not in attendance because he was in Germany drumming up business. Germany has been a leading source of immigrants to America over the centuries and could be a leading source of tourists.
Since the 18th century, Germans refugees from the Palatinate have been a part of the history of New York State. Now suppose, that in Germany someone asks Gavin about visiting New York to experience the Palatine story in New York. What would Gavin have done?
Naturally, he would have referred the person to the Path through History website. If one goes there and enters “Palatines” the following is displayed:
Founded as a Dutch colony early in the 17th century and later a British colony, New York distinguished itself as the most culturally diverse of the nation’s thirteen colonies and a colonial leader in politics, commerce, and culture. Visitors can explore the dazzling array of New York’s colonial history attractions in communities across the state. Below are some of the attractions you must see if you are looking to explore colonial history in New York State.
Of the 14 sites listed under Colonial History, only one is clearly identified as a Palatine site (thanks to its name), the 1747 Nellis Tavern / Palatine Settlement Society on Route 5 in St. Johnsville. The remaining 13 sites are Dutch, Huguenot, and on William Johnson. Hard to create a Palatine trip based on the one site (I wonder why these other sites are even listed in this search?)
One might suspect that the Fort Klock Historic Restoration in St. Johnsville, near the 1747 Nellis Tavern, has a Palatine connection, but one would have to already know that – the website does not provide that information. The Palatine German church (also on Route 5) is practically in walking distance, but isn’t listed. Nor is the nearby hamlet of Stone Arabia in the Town of Palatine. (Forget for a minute how Herkimer County got its name, or the dozens of other communities in New York State with German roots).
ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create a Palatine Path through History in New York that could be marketed to Germans or to teachers for professional development.
The Dutch contributed significantly to why New York became a successful immigrant state. The Dutch consulate in New York recently invited people to attend an informal working lunch to discuss how to promote the Dutch legacy in New York State. The story was told by Russell Shorto in his popular recent book The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. Shorto’s book was partly based on research done by Charles Gehring of the New Netherlands Institute and NYS Library. They were both in attendance at the Dutch consulate luncheon.
The meeting focus was primarily on the k-12 curriculum, and one of the points I made was about the need to bring teachers to historic sites where the history actually occurred. Bob Ulrich recently taught an adult education class at Marist College on the Dutch with over 100 enrollees. The class did not include field trips, but it suggests that people in the Hudson Valley would be willing to visit the Dutch heritage sites if there was such a program.
In any program about the Dutch in New York the assistance and participation of organizations such as the New Netherlands Institute and the Holland Society would be welcome and crucial in creating a meaningful experience. A search on the Path website for the New Netherlands Institute however, turns up almost every Path theme including the U.S. Presidents’ page which lists every presidential site in the state. It would be difficult to create a tour based on the website.
ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create a Dutch Path through History that could be marketed to the Dutch, to teachers for professional development, or for cultural heritage tourists.
Italians certainly are a numerous immigrant group in New York. When Bill de Blasio became mayor of New York, his ancestral village in Italy celebrated the victory as one of their own. Sam Roberts wrote a piece for the New York Times examining the mayor’s Italian and German ancestry using newly digitized census records. The Governor of New York State is Italian. His primary challenger is Italian. The current newsletter of the Friends of the Croton Aqueduct has an article about the Italians who built the New Croton Dam. There just was a full page of historical pictures in the New York Times showing people in New York playing bocce including the workers at the site that would become the United Nations. And who sings the most popular versions of “New York, New York”? Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli.
On the Path website, a search for Italian brings up the immigration theme. Of the 12 listings, the only evidently Italian one is the American Italian Heritage Museum & Cultural Center on 1227 Central Avenue in Albany.
By coincidence, I just received an email from Prof. Philip J. DiNovo who helped found the American Italian Heritage Museum 35 years ago. In case you are interested among the other sites in the listing are one Irish museum also in Albany, the Katonah Museum of Art in Westchester, Safe Haven Museum in Oswego for its work in World War II with holocaust survivors. It would be difficult to create an Italian Path through History in New York from the website.
ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create an Italian Path through History that could be marketed to Italians, Italian-Americans around the country or to teachers for professional development.
In a movie entitled “The Immigrant” Hollywood is telling the immigrant story in New York. The new film is not based on a real person. Some of “The Immigrant” was filmed at Ellis Island with extras who were the descendants of immigrants processed there. The film tells the story of a female Catholic Polish immigrant and her experiences once she arrived in New York. The movie contrasts the idyllic uplifting image of the Ellis Island immigrants with the strangeness and horror of leaving one world for another.
How difficult should it be to create an Immigrant Path through History in Lower Manhattan? The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are listed on the Path website but Castle Garden/Clinton National Monument where people previously disembarked in the 19th century (and there will be a 50-cannon salute there July 4 by the Veteran Corps of Artillery of the State of New York) is not. The Eldridge Street Museum/Eldridge Street Synagogue and Lower East Side Tenement Museum are listed, the Museum of Chinese in America and the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy are not.
ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to create an Immigrant Path through History that could be marketed to the over 100 million Americans who are descendants of immigrants through New York or to teachers for professional development.
Immigration Is A New York Story
Immigration to America is one of the foundation stories of this country. No state is better positioned to tell this story than New York. The story is a continuing one with over 3 million immigrants now living in New York City. The story of immigration today continues the story which has been played out for centuries in America. The story of immigrants becoming Americans is essential for the health and well-being of the country. New York has the opportunity to lead the nation in telling this vital story.
If the immigrants today do not connect to the immigrants of the past than America will pay the price. If we do not create a shared story that integrates the global tapestry that is America, then our country will dissolve into a multitude of hyphenated niches that has helped to tear so many other countries apart.
ILoveNY does not have the staff, resources, or expertise to tell the immigrant story which America needs to be told. I believe the proposed New York History Commission will.
How do we get the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to understand that?
Illustrations (from above): Government poster using the Statue of Liberty to promote the sale of Liberty Bonds during World War 1; Nellis Tavern; a map of New Netherland; Italian-Americans at a Bocci court in New York City; and a promotional poster for the new film “the Immigrant”.