As we study a topic as vast and multifaceted as “the peopling of New York City,” we find that many of the issues that we encounter bring us back to questions regarding the politics of difference in everyday life. How are the lines of cultural difference experienced among diverse local communities? How do symbolic as well as physical boundaries develop, and shift, between social groups affected by forces of immigration, inequality, and conflict? How are ideas of “Us vs. Them” reproduced every day, and what are the practical effects of such distinctions in people’s lives? By investigating these and other questions, we’ve made efforts to move away from simplistic narratives of “melting pots” and multiculturalism, to take in a more nuanced and complex view of New York City

To probe such questions further, our class was divided up into five separate research groups. Each group chose a specific community organization or cultural institution to study using various methods of data collection including web research, interviews, and fieldwork. The organizations that were chosen are all meant to represent, serve, and/or advocate on behalf of different segments of the city’s population, new and old. Focusing our research on such agencies helps us to think more concretely about how categories of cultural difference are institutionally mediated, and how grassroots associations try to represent local communities while also helping them – especially the most vulnerable and underprivileged – to overcome the inevitable social, economic, and political challenges of urban life. As we have found, such efforts are not always as successful as they perhaps could or should be. Nonetheless, they do help us to recognize that New York is a city that is about much more than immigration and ethnic enclaves. It is a city full of nonprofit organizations that seek to improve people’s lives, and to make New York a safer, richer, and more just place for all of its inhabitants.

Take a tour through our links and see for yourself!

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