My expectations for the Tenement Museum were very much like everyone else’s, a standard museum with a few exhibits, some informative posters, perhaps a few galleries, and a small theater for viewing a sentimental immigration film. In fact I completely walked by the museum on my first past and only located it because of the giant signs advertising its renovation at the end of the block. Being the child of an immigrant who came to this country at a young age, I have had a very estranged view of immigration. I understand it in the intellectually sense, and living in New York City immigration is not some esoteric concept to me, but I have no true sense of comprehension. I am not an immigrant and my father rarely speaks of himself immigrating as a child.
The idea of leaving my native country, my friends and family, to live in a tenement, not knowing the language and not having a job is a very unreal concept for me. I know that it happened but can’t conceive of the gritty realities of such a life. I know that my grandfather was unable to work as a lawyer in the United States due to licensing differences and so he gave up his profession to come to this country, but I cannot imagine doing the same.
The role-play rendered these vaunted intellectual ideas in a sharper light of realism. The actress who played Victoria Contino was on point the entire time and even though our participation was not the best she managed to engage us. Her diligence in remaining in character was admirable and the snippets of Spanish, which she interwove into her dialogue, was natural, even her accent was convincing. Too see as close as could be depicted, the accommodations of an immigrant family was astonishing, and it really brought to light how many modern conveniences we take for granted.
I truly enjoyed the experience.