Tag Archives: Ethnicity and Immigration

Book Review: John Strausbaugh’s Victory City

Strausbaugh, John. Victory City: A History of New York and New Yorkers during World War II. (New York: Twelve, 2018). 497pp. $30. ISBN 1455567485

Reviewed by Michael L. Levine

Victory City tells what it was like to live in New York during the Great Depression and World War II. The book may not break new scholarly ground, but it succeeds admirably in bringing a time and place to life and as such can serve as an inviting introduction to students for whom the New Deal and World War II may seem quite remote. Students today are as far removed from the New Deal as those in the thirties were from the Mexican War.

Reading Victory City is a bit like coming across a yellowing newspaper in an old trunk. In that regard John Strausbaugh exercises a deft touch in selecting compelling details. Consider:   During the Depression three out of ten Brooklyn doctors lost phone service for nonpayment of bills. Doctors, mind you! How did ordinary families get by? Meanwhile some of New York’s largest corporations and banks got by– hedging their bets by investing in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy

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New York, New York. Sidewalk merchant in the Jewish section, Marjory Collins, August 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

We are reminded that during the thirties and forties New York was home as almost no place else to tremendous concentrations of a wide range of ethnic groups. Of particular interest is Strausbaugh’s take on the world’s largest Jewish city. When it came to political confidence in the thirties and forties, the Jewish population in New York seemed less assertive and more uncertain than we might imagine. To retaliate for Hitler’s boycott of Jewish shops in Germany, Jewish New Yorkers called for a boycott of German-owned stores, including Macy’s. Although Macy’s was owned by the Strauses, a Jewish family, it had emigrated from Germany.

Along these lines consider that Arthur Sulzberger, an assimilated Jew, didn’t want his family’s paper, The New York Times, to be seen as Jewish. So, in the thirties, the paper “methodically,” to use Strausbaugh’s words, downplayed news about the persecution of Jews in Europe. Other American Jewish leaders also hesitated to speak out in favor of admitting Jewish refugees for fear of rousing the country’s many anti-Semites. During World War II Washington’s policy toward European Jews was based on the idea that a more aggressive effort to save the Jews from the Nazis would make it appear that the conflict was “a war for the Jews,” in which case Americans would be less willing to make sacrifices.

Hitler Street in Long Island
From The Atlantic: This “Adolf Hitler Strasse” is a street running through “Camp Siegfried,” a summer camp of the German American Bund in Yaphank, Long Island, New York, Bettman Archive, Getty

Strausbaugh also reminds us that while New York was a center of Jewry, it was also very much a German city. New Yorkers of German ancestry (numbering three quarters of million) may not have mostly been pro-Hitler, but Nazism unashamedly maintained a conspicuous presence throughout the metropolitan area. In the thirties, Fritz Kuhn’s German American Bund ran a summer camp on Long Island where youngsters uniformed like Hitler youth marched up and down streets named for Hitler, Goring and Goebbels. On German Day in 1938, the camp drew 40,000 visitors along with 2,000 Storm Trooper guards. The Long Island Railroad thoughtfully obliged by running a Camp Siegfried Special. In 1939 the Bund drew 22,000 to a rally at Madison Square Garden.

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World War II Era Harlem courtesy of Cole Phelps at https://www.thecoli.com/threads/ww2-era-harlem-pics.209216/

Strausbaugh points out that FDR drew the best and brightest—disproportionately New Yorkers—to Washington. If FDR was less concerned with an employee’s religion, gender and race than previous presidents, then some measure of credit must be given to his enlightened First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. These were the years when appreciative African Americans abandoned Lincoln’s GOP for the New Deal. But Strausbaugh points out that all was not well in the matter of race relations even in progressive Gotham. The 1943 Harlem Riots reflected the city’s oppressive and discriminatory housing and employment practices which made life for Africans Americans so difficult to endure.

A caution: Victory City may prove disconcerting at a time when “enemy of the people,” a vicious slogan calling to mind the brutal authoritarianism of the thirties, now finds renewed currency. When it comes to protecting civil rights and civil liberties—on guard!

Michael L. Levine holds a doctorate in American history from Rutgers. A long-time freelance editor and writer, he has staffed the A. Philip Randolph Institute and has served as editor-in-chief of National Productivity Review and as Associate Editor of Political Profiles, a multi-volume series featuring biographies of contemporary political leaders.

 Featured image (a top): World War II Era Harlem courtesy of Cole Phelps at https://www.thecoli.com/threads/ww2-era-harlem-pics.209216/.

 

 

From Arlandria to Chirilagua: The Shifting Demographics of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Krystyn Moon

In the summer of 1980, Edith Zambrano arrived in northern Virginia like many men and women whose lives El Salvador’s civil war had disrupted. After a student massacre her grandfather had refused to allow her to attend school, and with war raging in the countryside she decided that it was time to leave for the United States. Traveling to the United States had always been a possibility for Zambrano, whose parents had immigrated a decade earlier. In fact, the first Salvadorans, working for American diplomats who had previously lived in Central America, had arrived in the Washington metropolitan area in the 1960s. This first cohort of Salvadoran immigrants soon invited friends and family to make the journey and assisted them in finding work in construction, restaurants, and domestic labor.[1] It took Zambrano twenty-one days to travel from El Salvador to the United States, including a trip across the Rio Grande on a raft. She eventually made it to Los Angeles, and then flew into Dulles International Airport where her family was waiting.

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Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, Detroit Publishing Inc., 1902, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Her mother had found an apartment in Arlandria, one of the few privately-owned low-income neighborhoods in the region. Located in the northernmost portion of Alexandria, Virginia, the neighborhood was “where the apartment buildings were known for cockroaches inside and drug dealers outside.”[2] Like many recent arrivals, the Zambranos squeezed nine people into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to save as much money as possible to send to family members back home. They were among the first Latino residents of Arlandria, but they soon saw numerous familiar faces from El Salvador. “One by one, that summer and the next, [Zambrano’s] classmates showed up and moved into her neighborhood…. Her cousins followed…. Every Sunday, the crowds at the neighborhood soccer games grew, and every Sunday, she bumped into someone else from back home.”[3] By the late 1980s, the neighborhood was home to a sizable number of Salvadoran immigrants who nicknamed the neighborhood “Chirilagua,” after a town in southeastern El Salvador from which many residents had fled.

Arlandria/Chirilagua, like the rest of northern Virginia, had only seen small numbers of immigrants prior to the 1980s. Constructed in the late 1930s, the neighborhood’s garden apartments and rowhouses catered to white federal workers, of which an overwhelming majority was native born. With the passage of local and federal fair housing policies in the 1960s, Alexandria slowly began to desegregate its housing stock, and for the first time large numbers of African Americans moved into the neighborhood. Racial tensions ran high in Arlandria, with two incidents of white-on-black violence that provoked widespread anger and destruction throughout the city.[4] Simultaneously, rapid suburbanization along Four Mile Run, a large stream that emptied into the Potomac River near Arlandria, had created what Adam Rome asserts was “an environmental catastrophe.”[5] Northern Virginia’s sprawling tract housing and shopping plazas ensured that water had few places to go, especially after a drenching storm. One of the most memorable was Hurricane Agnes (1972), during which one Arlandria resident drowned.[6]

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Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library
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Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library

Arlandria’s environmental and social turmoil made the neighborhood an affordable, although potentially dangerous, place to live for newly arrived immigrants. Refugees from Southeast Asia who needed a place to live once their sponsorship period had ended made up the first sizable number of new arrivals.[7] Immigrants from all over the world, however, also moved to the neighborhood. By 1975, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Iran, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, and Turkey lived in Arlandria.[8]

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s cuts to social services combined with Cold War policies created a crisis for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lived in the region. In response to Reagan’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, both American citizens and immigrants moved to Washington to take advantage of the growing economy, with government contractors making billions of dollars selling products and services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Meanwhile, service industries flourished along with construction jobs, domestic work, and clerical positions, all of which saw an increasing number of foreign-born employees. Although job opportunities expanded, so did living expenses, with rich and poor competing for places to live within commuting distance of their employers. Thus local developers began to buy undervalued apartments and convert them into high-end rentals or condominiums that appealed to a new class of white professionals, known as “yuppies.” In Virginia, low-income residents had little recourse. State and local governments had enacted few regulations protecting renters from predatory landlords and developers.[9]

The proximity of Arlandria to Washington, D.C. along with its undervalued real estate market, was perfect for mid-to-high-end redevelopment, which local governments believed would lead to more tax monies. In response to changes in the housing market, Artery Organization, Inc. purchased over 1,000 apartment units in Arlandria in 1986. It created a firestorm among city officials and local residents. At the same time, two other developers, Potomack Development, Inc. and Freeman/Cafritz, had purchased other apartment complexes in the neighborhood with the intent to renovate and raise rents.[10] These sales constituted 74% of the neighborhood’s apartments, all of which were slated for conversion and potential displacement of the existing residents. Magda Gotts, an Arlandria resident and member of the newly formed Alexandria United Tenant Organization (which hoped to protect local residents from displacement and eviction), told reporters, “it’s going to be an exodus of people. There is no place for these people to go. I’m speechless.” [11] Alexandria’s mayor, Jim Moran, noted this would be “the largest displacement in the city’s history.” Despite their concerns, local officials believed little could be done.

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Tenant Flyer from Tenants and Workers United circa mid-1980s, photograph by Krystyn Moon

Tensions over housing soon pitted African American and Latino residents living in Arlandria against each other, eventually leading to violence. The arrival of immigrants in the neighborhood had angered some African American residents, who only in the past twenty years had the opportunity to live in Arlandria and had struggled to find housing in the region. Latinos, many of whom were unrecognized as refugees by the federal government, could not apply for housing assistance programs, and were limited to privately-owned units. In July 1986, a fight broke out in the streets of Arlandria between African American and Latino residents, leading to forty arrests. In response, the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews organized a series of community meetings to develop a list of issues that affected Arlandria residents and facilitate interracial and intercultural conversations to mitigate tension. Everyone recognized that pending displacement triggered the violence.[12]

In the meantime, tenants and their supporters organized protests to raise public awareness and demanded city officials and developers be held accountable. Two groups, Alexandria United Tenants Organization and the Arlandria Community Campaign to Save our Homes, organized Latino, African American, and white tenants to protest and speak out against displacement.[13] Within weeks of the first sale, 200 residents walked through the streets singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” invoking the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”[14] A year later, tenants and activists organized a large-scale, interracial and interethnic march from Arlandria to City Hall, including Edith Zambrano. While giving speeches on the City Hall’s steps, Mitch Snyder, a Washingtonian homeless activist from the Community for Creative Non Violence, suggested protesters take over City Council chambers, symbolically displacing local government. It was the only time in which protesters had successfully shut down City Council. Frustrated by the presence of protesters in their chambers, Mayor Moran threatened to send agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest residents, and almost came to blows with Snyder.[15]

Meanwhile, city government scrambled to put together a plan to help as many tenants as possible. By the end of the summer, it had worked out a compromise with developers to put aside one-fourth of their apartments for the next five years for low-income tenants who received Section 8 subsidies. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) also began renovations of 152 units to be put aside for public housing.[16] That same year, a group of local Episcopal churches established Carpenter’s Lodgings (now Community Lodgings), a non-profit to address homelessness in the neighborhood. In addition to housing, they offered job training, childcare, and other social services to local residents.[17] Many residents still wanted cooperative housing, in which they owned units with support from public and private funds. The Tenants Support Committee, established in 1989, used the bankruptcy of one of the developers to acquire 300 units. It took an additional ten years to create the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.[18]

In the end, Arlandria’s housing problems in the 1980s established lasting changes between residents and city officials. Local government needed to be more responsive to the needs of low-income residents, who now included not only African Americans and whites, but also a diverse immigrant population. Creative public and private partnerships, in the wake of cuts to federal funding under the Reagan administration, could also offset massive displacements. More participatory forms of local governance, which African Americans had demanded since the 1960s, fostered a sense of belonging and community. By the late 1980s, Arlandria had not become yuppified as many feared, but maintained its diversity.

Edith Zambrano eventually legalized her status and moved out of Chirilagua, like many Salvadorans who came in response to the civil war. Newer immigrants, however, have moved into the neighborhood, which is still known for its sizable Latino, especially Central American, community today.[19]

2018 Headshot AKrystyn Moon is a professor of history and director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Her teaching and research include US immigration history, popular culture, race and ethnic studies, foodways, gender and sexuality, and consumerism. She is the author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (2005), and several articles, essays, reviews, and blogs on American immigration history and ethnic identity. Additionally, she has worked as a public historian, collaborating with the Office of Historic Alexandria for several years. As part of this partnership, she has written “Finding the Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s” to assist in the inclusion of African American history in Alexandria’s public programming. She was also the lead historical researcher and interviewer on “Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future,” an oral history project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Her current research looks at ways in complicating the public’s understanding of the past, especially through her research on race relations and immigration in the Washington metropolitan region. She serves as the president of the Alexandria Historical Society, and is the recent past president of the Southeastern Regional Chapter of the American Studies Association.

Featured image (at top): Mural depicting the community’s image located on the Tenants and Workers United Headquarters, photograph by Krystyn Moon

 

[1] Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

[2] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Arlandria Negroes Protest Police Action,” Washington Post October 6, 1969, C4; E. J. Bachinski and Michael Hodge, “Youth Slain, Disorder Hits Alexandria,” Washington Post, May 30, 1970, 17.

[5] Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

[6] “Fairfax Flood Death Raises Toll to 15,” Washington Post June 27, 1972.

[7] Christine R. Finnan, Rhonda Ann Cooperstein, and Anne R. Wright, Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement at the Local Level: The Role of the Ethnic Community and the Nature of Refugee Impact (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, November 1983), 119-133.

[8] Data collected by author on 1975 VA Marriage Certificates, Department of Health–Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; State of Virginia; www.ancestry.com (accessed on September 18, 2016).

[9] Michael Schaller, Reckoning with Reagan: America and Its President in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Simon Head, “Reagan, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War,” Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Perceptions, Policies, Legacies, ed. Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies, (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 81-100; Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[10] Memo: Receipt of Arlandria Report; From: Lionel R. Hope and Carlyle C. Ring Jr.; To Mayor and City Council; City Clerk, Docket Minutes–City Council, October 28-November 15, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[11] Mary Jordan, “Tenant Group Gets $16,000 in Alexandria; Organization’s Flier Angers Mayor Moran,” Washington Post March 12, 1986, C4; Mary Jordan, “Apartment Purchase Plan Stirs Controversy; Displacement of 3,000 Low-Income Persons Feared in Alexandria,” Washington Post June 11, 1986, C4.

[12] Around the Region,” Washington Post June 4, 1986, C6; Kim McGuire, “Keeping Sunnyside Up is Goal of Residents,” Washington Post June 26, 1986, VAB11; “Around the Region,” Washington Post August 22, 1986, B5; “Arlandria Inner Group 1986 File,” Citizen Assistance—Subject Files, January 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[13] Special Meeting–September 13, 1986; City Clerk—Docket Minutes—City Council—July 17-September 13, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[14] Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1986, B3.

[15] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017); Sandra Evans, “Alexandria Tenants Protest; City Council Forced to Adjourn by Group,” Washington Post, February 22, 1987, B3; Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1987, B3 .

[16] “City of Alexandria Annual Report: 1987,” Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[17] Community Lodgings: About Us; http://www.communitylodgings.org/about-us/ (accessed September 6, 2016).

[18] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017).

[19] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

Previewing Our February Metro of the Month: Northern Virginia

If you find yourself in Northern Virginia and you feel a burgeoning hunger in your belly, you won’t find many better spots for Korean and Vietnamese food. Swing down to Annandale for the former (maybe check out Honey Pig) and over to Falls Church for the latter, where Eden Center has numerous sumptuous options.

The shadow of the Pentagon (Arlington), C.I.A. Headquarters (Langley), and D.C.’s bureaucratic architecture often obscures the fact that while government and defense industry employment have made NOVA one of the nation’s largest suburban economies, the area also draws critical entrepreneurs, laborers, and restaurateurs from around the world, and in particular from Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Iran.

The point, I suppose, is that NOVA has more local color than the bland tones of federal bureaucracy suggest (and that observers often accord it). With the 2019 SACRPH conference taking place in Crystal City this fall (from October 31-November 3; see the CFP here and submit proposals by March 15), NOVA will be our first Metro of the Month (MotM) for 2019, in part to encourage our fellow urbanists to consider attending the conference.

To its credit, The Metropole has waded into NOVA territory before and in an effort to whet your appetite for our forthcoming MotM, we’ve summarized two previous articles on the region below–replete with links to the full piece. Check them out and then come back Monday when we kick off our February Metropolis of the Month: Northern Virginia!

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Eden Center, Northern Virginia, 2014

“Capital within a Capital: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

Published as part of our MotM on Ho Chi Minh City, The Metropole explored how the Vietnam War created transnational connections between South Vietnamese officials and soldiers and American policy makers in NOVA. Drawing from work by Andrew Friedman, Lisa Lowe, and others, the article examined how Vietnamese resettlement challenged binary ideas of race while also enabling South Vietnamese refugees to establish a foothold in NOVA and create a space for cultural expression.

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Home in Hollin Hills, April 2017

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

Though today images of suburban Northern Virginia litter movies like 1987’s No Way Out and are recreated by television series such as The Americans (the show wasn’t actually filmed in NOVA), it’s worth remembering that much of this development took place after World War II in relation to the growth of government–particularly the defense and intelligence industries. The white-collar bureaucrats that staffed these new positions needed homes, and some demanded more than large-scale subdivisions that ignored environmental factors. Enter architect Charles Goodman and his modernist enclave of Hollin Hills, a neighborhood evocative of the modernist architecture made famous by California. Though largely understudied, the community has influenced modern day media; the aesthetics of the television show Mad Men is just one example. In addition to the historical context it provides, the photo-rich article also doubles as a home tour so that you can get up close without leaving your seat.

Featured image (at top): Aerial view of Northern Virginia, across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Teaching Immigration History after Tree of Life

This morning we are briefly departing from our usual coverage on The Metropole to reflect on the intersection of pedagogy and current events. In this post, co-editor Avigail Oren comments on her experience in the classroom following the attack at Tree of Life.

On Monday, October 22, I began teaching a half-semester course at Carnegie Mellon University on the history of immigration to the United States. Within days, this history became personal. One mile away from campus a man murdered 11 Jews at prayer in their synagogue, in a violent act of protest against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish legacy of support for immigration.

My body showed up to teach on the Monday after the shooting. From notes I printed out in my office beforehand, I read a lecture about Jewish immigrant John Jacob Astor. I have little recollection of what I said. In the final minutes of class time, I told students that they were welcome to leave if they felt unready to discuss the shooting, but that I was holding space for a discussion if anyone wanted to stay. I began by telling them that Tree of Life refers to Torah, to the revelation of God that comes through studying that holy text: “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17-18). I explained to them that we do the same thing in the history classroom—study texts to achieve revelation about our place in the world. We study so as to make visible the tightrope we walk between the past and the future we are trying to build (or stave off). There I stopped, opening the floor for questions.

The first student to speak was the President of Chabad at CMU. He showed up for class wearing a kippah (yarmulke) as a visible statement of his Jewish identity. He asked, in more words, “how did we get here, to a moment of such hatred and violence?” And I explained that domestic terrorism was not new in this country, not for slaves or descendants of slaves or anyone with dark skin. Not for poor people or queer people or immigrants. And not for Jews either. I cannot recall if I concluded with some thoughtful tying of the bow, circling back to the present. I may simply have run out of energy and ceased speaking. I know other students asked questions but they are lost to memory. On Wednesday I canceled class and told my students to read a chapter from their textbook about the nativist Know Nothing Party.

Memory was a struggle for weeks afterwards. I walked into rooms unsure why I was there. I no longer knew the names of people I spoke to regularly. I was constantly searching for words. My students noticed this. When we returned the next Monday—and for many lectures after that—they had to fill in the holes in my memory. If a word or name or date was not written in my notes, it was a gamble whether I’d be able to recall it.

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Photo by author. 11/30/18, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA.

Yet, it ended up being the best semester of teaching that I have ever had. There is nothing like a local hate crime motivated by nativism to prove that immigration history has enduring relevance. My students felt personally invested in the subject and began following the news more closely. They brought this perspective with them into our discussions.

It also changed me as a teacher. First and foremost, I stopped sweating the small shit. Stochastic violence has a way of putting things into perspective. I gave extensions and was flexible about attendance and allowed revisions and provided extra credit opportunities. I focused more on each individual student’s growth and less on grades.

More notably, however, I became a more fervent defender of the rights of immigrants. I absolutely hammered the point that immigrants are human beings with bodies that are viscerally affected by the experience of migration, resettlement, assimilation, and how immigration restrictions denied them a chance at safety and were used to uphold the power of the powerful. If my students found me biased, they did not express it, but I do not care regardless. The dominant political narrative assumes that immigration restriction is a public good and sound policy, and so they have heard and will continue to hear that perspective. They may choose to disregard the polemics of their radical professor. But I made sure they heard it.

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Photo by author. 11/8/18, East Liberty, Pittsburgh, PA.

At the end of the final lecture of the semester, I thanked my students for their patience and commitment. I told them that after the shooting I was unsure that I would be able to finish the semester, but that teaching them this history (and thereby reinforcing my own knowledge and understanding of U.S. immigration) had been healing. Part of that was watching them become aware of the continuities between the nativist rhetoric and policies of the past and those of the present moment. But it was also realizing that they cared and empathized with immigrants. There was one Robert Bowers, but in front of me sat 23 empaths. That gave me hope to persevere, in the classroom and beyond.

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Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2011 to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University, where she still sometimes adjuncts.

Member of the Week: Llana Barber

Barber - PhotoLlana Barber

Associate Professor, American Studies

College at Old Westbury (SUNY)

 

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My first book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000, explored the history of Dominican and Puerto Rican experiences with urban crisis in Lawrence, MA, and Latinx activism to transform the city. When it was published last year, I thought that would mark the end of the project. Instead, it has brought me the opportunity to travel widely to discuss my research, and these conversations continually push my ideas to evolve. So, although I am no longer in the archives in Lawrence, I remain engaged in this research.

My new project, however, is quite different. I am researching the incarceration, interdiction, repatriation, and deportation of Haitian migrants from the 1970s to 1990s. I argue that this militarized migrant exclusion was central to the formation of the U.S. as a nativist state. While this project does not have a distinctly urban focus, there are surprising methodological overlaps. Being an urban historian has made me particularly attentive to the fact that dramatic inequality can be created and maintained by restricting human mobility across space, and that force, law, and discourse have long been used in concert to contain marginalized populations. My work applies these urban history insights to the study of national borders and American empire.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

The College at Old Westbury (SUNY) is a small, public, liberal arts college with a longstanding social-justice mission and a student body that is diverse by nearly every metric. My scholarship weaves together several different fields, and I am fortunate that I get to teach in all of them: immigration history, urban history, Latinx history, and the history of U.S. imperialism. My students often have strong opinions and immense curiosity about the past. Their outrage over injustice and their enthusiasm for social movements keep these histories vivid and new for me, so being in the classroom consistently reignites my drive to excavate the past. My students never let me lose sight of the “so what?” in my scholarship; we feed in each other a faith that understanding systems of oppression will help us dismantle them.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I loved Julio Capó’s Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940! His work shows the rich results of applying queer theory and transnational methodologies to urban history. Also, I thought Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 broke important ground in uncovering the relationship between the carceral state and the nativist state.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

As obsessed as I am with systems, spaces, and structures, history is about people. If your work is missing people’s voices, it is missing the point.

Your undergraduate degree is in dance! What historical event or episode would you want to be commissioned to choreograph a dance about, and where would you stage the performance?

Great question! Yes, my undergraduate degree is indeed in dance, but I was always more interested in the cultural context (who danced and where? who watched and why?), than the content. So, if I may indulge my fancy here: rather than choreograph a dance performance about a specific historic event, I would rather take people out dancing. Popular dance cultures still thrive, and their transformations over time create an embodied record of the past. Similar to oral histories, dance cultures need to be interpreted carefully as historical sources, but there is a lot to be learned about a city’s past on its dancefloors!

Member of the Week: Matthew Guariglia

39310556_10213341790634339_3231092978973933568_oMatthew Guariglia

Ph.D. Candidate in History

University of Connecticut

@mguariglia

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research explores how policing changed as U.S. cities became more racially and ethnically diverse between the 1860s and the 1920s. A few years ago I became very interested in how the state learns about citizens and how that knowledge is employed in the project of policing and social control.

After years of research, what I’ve discovered is that between around 1895 and 1920, police departments experimented with a number of different tactics in order to make people it deemed too foreign to be “legible” to the state more policeable. I’ve also been surprised at how international my scope has become in order to tell this story. By tracing the origins of these different tactics and technologies used on the streets of New York City, my dissertation has widened to include U.S. colonial governance and race making in the Philippines and Cuba, criminal anthropology in Italy, newly invented information management techniques in Germany, as well as a number of policing tactics present in European cities that were developed in colonies in East Africa and South Asia.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Last semester I taught African American History from 1865 to the present, which really helped me solidify a lot of the themes and ideas in my dissertation. I had been having trouble conceptualizing the difference between how immigrants and African Americans in New York were subject to two entirely different modes of policing and what that meant for the project of racial state building. Getting the chance to teach Reconstruction and the history of Black citizenship really helped me develop this idea of police as citizen-makers who could deploy different styles of policing depending on who they were bringing in to the national fold and who was being excluded.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

 Lately, I’ve been very encouraged and inspired by the recent scholarship pulling the conversation on race, crime, policing, and incarceration further into the past. I believe the genealogies of mass incarceration go back much further than post-war policy. For me, Adam Malka’s The Men of Mobtown, Tera Eva Agyepong’s The Criminalization of Black Children, and Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates, have all been brilliant at showing the intellectual and structural foundations on which the carceral state was built. In terms of upcoming books, I am excited for an upcoming book by Craig Robertson on the history of the filing cabinet. It’s a bit of a pet project and obsession of mine, but because the state’s collection and retention of information on racialized subjects is so central to my thinking on state power, that book is going to be a must read.

As for my own work, this fall I have an article coming out in the Journal of American Ethnic History that looks at the mechanization of bureaucracy and deportation in 1919-1920. It is also proving increasingly timely as it revolves around the political agency of bureaucrats to resist policy from within institutions, especially those institutions that are engaging with questions of race, immigration, and civil liberties.  

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

When visiting that city for research, go seek out the archivists, librarians, museum employees, and historical society workers. Their perspective is invaluable for understanding the history of a city. Them, and cab drivers. Telling people I study the history of the NYPD has brought me so many good tips that usually begin with, “My grandmother always used to say her father was a police officer……”

Last year your Made By History article was retweeted by none other than Edward Snowden. How do you plan to top that? 

That was a weird day. I had a lot of people accusing me of being a Russian spy. If I could top that experience, it would be by getting some policy makers to actually read the Made By History column. It’s always so disappointing when politicians propose solutions to problems like police brutality or mass surveillance and are unaware that those solutions already have long histories. I would love to start seeing some of that work seep into the political sphere.

Member of the Week: Barry Goldberg

BG PicBarry Goldberg, Ph.D. (2017)

Department of History, CUNY Graduate Center

@bpg269

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

My project examines Jewish politics on the Lower East Side since the 1960s. I utilize congressional and municipal papers, court records, articles from the ethnic press, and quantitative voting data to examine how an influential network of Jewish elected leaders, civic institutions, and voters – residing on Grand Street and largely Orthodox — shaped the trajectory of civil rights activism, new education and antipoverty policy, and urban renewal on the Lower East Side during the last third of the twentieth century. In all, I make three central claims: first, that the Lower East Side remained an important site for the development of, and ideological fissures within, American Jewish politics after World War II; second, that Jewish-Puerto Rican relations became a central feature of both local and citywide politics at this time; and third, that Orthodox Jews helped shape American conservatism in the postwar period.

I am broadly interested in questions of race, political power, and neighborhood change. I became interested in my specific topic after researching a longtime Jewish congressional representative on the Lower East Side. Though he was not the original subject of my research, he provided a gateway into looking at the neighborhood’s larger Jewish community. I was surprised to learn that no one had written a postwar history of this community, or Lower East Side politics more generally, despite several factors that set it apart from other urban neighborhoods. Recent high-profile stories on the neighborhood have also spurred my research, and, as the descendant of a Lower East Sider, I feel a certain emotional connection to the area.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I teach the second half of the U.S. history survey at Queens College. My research has led me to cover more local (primarily New York City) history in the survey. Earlier in the semester, my students learned about redlining by perusing the Mapping Inequality online database. We also talked about the 1964 Harlem Riots and debates over police brutality (I blogged briefly on this here).

At the same time, my dissertation has also made me more attuned to congressional history. In my dissertation, I examine Lower East Side redistricting and judicial debates over enforcing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). As a result, I devote more time to discussing the VRA in class.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Three in particular: Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics by Kim Phillips-Fein; In the Heat of the Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime by Michael Flamm; Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York by Rose Muzio

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?

I have two connected suggestions. First, keep an open mind. I had broad interests at the start of graduate school and did not expect to research the Lower East Side, or urban history more broadly. But here I am. Trial and error is OK. Be patient, and keep working. My second suggestion is to prioritize archival research. Obviously, you need to know what others have said about your topic (or potential topic), but the archives will lead you in new and exciting directions.

Describe your most exciting archival find!

One of my favorite archival finds was the Board of Election reports and assembly district maps from the New York Public Library. Using these in combination allowed me to trace how people voted in different sections of the Lower East Side and break those sections down by a number of social factors. This quantitative data allowed me to show how political divisions, primarily around race and ethnicity, unfolded on the ground in the neighborhood and provided a needed element of social history to my work.