November 4, 2012, Sunday, 308


From The Peopling of New York City


About Me


Hi, I'm Colette Salame. I was born in Los Angeles, where I lived until, at the age of three, my family and I moved to New York. It was 1993, the year that President Assad finally let all Jews leave Syria on the condition that they don't go to Israel. Most of the community came to New York, so my family moved here as well to rejoin those they left behind in the old country.

Currently, I am a student at Brooklyn College attempting to study everything that I could possibly fit into my schedule, while working part time and still making some time for friends and family. Lately, this has become not so easy, and the only solution that seems to work somewhat is pulling an all nighter.

The image on the right was taken by a friend on the B train right after I explained to her that the Bronx is not on the way to Brooklyn when one is on 28th Street in Manhattan.

An Ideal Community

The picture of an ideal community would be taken from an upper diagonal angle. It would show wide streets and two and three story buildings with many windows. The air would be very clear and the morning sun would be shining. There would be lots of people in the streets; parents putting kids on school buses before leaving for work on the streets while shopkeepers roll up their gates on the avenues.
The community would be self-sufficient. It would have people that ensure everything is taken care of properly, from garbage collection to after school programs to keeping the peace. Everyone would know and help out everyone else with anything. There would be lots of organizations, each with a specific task, to make sure that everyone in the community has everything he or she needs and that everyone is happy. There would be a community center where all these organizations would be headquartered and where many events and get-togethers would take place so that people would stay on good terms. There would also be a publication that keeps members posted on the goings on at the community center, and in which members could bring up new projects to discuss or problems to solve.
All members of the community would be polite and respectful to one another, although they wouldn’t be equals in education or financial stature. Those with more money and power would help those with less by financing and providing connections for the community’s organizations. There would be no jealousy amongst the members, as everyone would want only the best for himself and the other community members, at the same time understanding that everyone has his own place in society. They would all live alongside each other and share in joy and pain as if they were family.
Most of the community probably would be related, because this ideal community would have had lots of its members living in the area for generations. The adults would work during the day, with nearly half of them running the area’s shops on the avenues. Kids would get together to play football on the streets after school, with teens watching them from friends’ porches. Eventually, many of these kids and teens would marry each other and have their own kids, thus continuing and expanding the community. Most of the new generation would stay close to home, and those who leave would start new communities in other cities that are still connected to the original one.

The Movie Clip

I chose the Halloween clip from “In America” to show to the class because it showed what I feel is the most critical stage in the story of immigration: the assimilation
process. It showed what I see all around me today: kids wanting to be more ‘American’ with parents that are either unable or refuse to understand. Luckily for the kids in the movie, the parents were willing to try.
One aspect of the depiction of the struggle that I appreciated was that the actual talk between the kids and parents took place on a crowded street. The people around
the family didn’t even notice them. This serves to show how common these struggles are in New York City and how wrapped up everyone is in their own lives.

In America trailer
Note: This is not the one minute clip.

There to Here

My family comes from Damascus, Syria on both sides. My father came in the 1970’s, my mother in 1988, and most of the others in 1993. The reasons for leaving had been the same since Israel was recognized as an independent Jewish state in 1948; the persecution of Jews in all Arab countries to at least some extent. Syria had begun to restrict Jewish freedom from the moment it got independence from France but became much worse when Israel was declared a Jewish state. Jews could not hold any jobs in the government and had a lot of trouble getting visas for any kind of travel. The Jewish Quarter in Damascus was under constant watch by the police and almost everyone had, or knew someone who had been taken in for questioning. The situation was not helped by the Soviets revealing that the third in line to succeed as President of Syria, Kamel Amin Tsa’abet, was actually Eli Cohen, an Israeli Mossad agent, in 1965.
I’m very fuzzy on my father’s story as he doesn’t like to tell it to anyone, but from what I’ve heard from others, these seem to be the facts: My father was somewhere between 17 and 21, and may or may not have finished high school. His father had bought a store that he was to manage. Sometime before the grand opening, one of my aunts was beaten during a questioning about one of her friends that escaped the country. My father decided that this wasn’t a country in which he could continue to live and got one of the suppliers for the store to take him to Turkey without telling anyone. From there he went to Lebanon and made contact with people who helped refugees get to America. At some point he sent a message to his family that he was alive and somehow got the supplier to smuggle almost all of his immediate family out. Sometime in between all this my uncle Albert was taken in for questioning and held for a while. He was the only one left in Syria until 1993, when the whole community was let out. My father and his family settled in Brooklyn, New York.
My mother is much more open about her journey to New York. In her day, there were a lot more single girls than guys in Damascus, so it was common practice for a father to buy a son-in-law. My mother’s family was too proud to do this, so my mother and aunts stayed single for a long time. My mother stayed in school when all her friends dropped out to get married or work and eventually made her way through medical school. She was about to start her residency when a law was passed that single girls over 25 could leave the country for some time, as long as they don’t go to Israel, put up a large deposit with the government, and leave relatives behind in case they don’t come back. My mother decided to do this and came to New York in the spring of 1988 with no intentions of ever going back to Syria.
My parents got married on October 31, 1988 in Brooklyn, New York. My father was already a citizen and my mother quickly became one as well. They moved to Los Angeles, California where my brother and I were born. In 1993, we moved to Brooklyn, New York again to rejoin the rest of the Syrian Jewish community, many of whom were just let out by President Assad under a lot of pressure from the U.S. Most of the new refugees came to New York because they had relatives here and because one of the conditions of leaving Syria was that they don’t go to Israel.

The Neighborhood

I live at 407 Avenue U, Brooklyn, NY 11223. It's a great area where I know a lot of my neighbors, well at least the ones that live here year round.




What is interesting about the average and median income maps is that the median income is lower than the average income, meaning the data is skewed by some extremely high incomes in the neighborhood.


Also interesting is how the house values jump in the census tract to the northeast, where some of the main synagogues and the Sephardic Community Center are located.




Because of the large concentration of Syrians in my neighborhood, I have heard it referred to as Syria-Lebanon.

Midterm Answers

Berger - 'Describe how specific neighborhoods have shifted populations over time. Give two examples of different immigrants in different neighborhoods.'
Over time everything changes. The old is replaced by the new in a seemingly never-ending cycle. This is especially true of the people and neighborhoods of New York City, where there is a particularly rapid change because of mass immigration from many different countries. In Astoria, Queens, the change that is taking place is very evident. At one time, the area used to be full of Greeks and seemed to be gathering more. Now, the Greeks are moving away and intermarrying and Arabs and Brazilians are populating the area. There are virtually no new Greek immigrants to replenish the supply of those lost to assimilation and at the rate that Greeks kids are moving away, very soon there will be no real Greek presence in Astoria. The older Greeks will retire and the Arabs and Brazilians will take over all the businesses and houses. Astoria, given some time, will become unrecognizable. Personally, I find this change in Astoria very sad because it shows what could happen to my neighborhood. Like the Greek movement into Astoria, The Syrian-Lebanese Jewish movement into my neighborhood seems to have no end in sight. Also like the Greeks, we have virtually no new blood coming in, because nearly everyone who was left in the old country came in 1993. We don’t have the intermarriage problem, but a lot of the kids of the older generation are moving to Deal, New Jersey. The change that took place in Astoria could happen in my neighborhood too, and soon. A more hopeful picture of change is represented in the change of Chinatown. The Chinese are a group who are the new picture of immigrant success. They have made Chinatown much bigger and more popular than ever. Although the wealthier second generation is moving to Queens and Brooklyn, they often return to Chinatown to support it. In this way, it isn’t losing its Chinese culture like Astoria is losing its Greek. Instead of abandoning their neighborhood, the Chinese are beautifying it. The future generation isn’t just leaving this job to the parents either. When they move to neighborhoods with more space, they deliberately choose neighborhoods that are along the trains leading to Chinatown for easy accessibility. Near me, they are congregated on Avenue U around the Q line on East 16th Street.

Glazer & Moynihan - 'Pick one group and describe its assimilation process. Has this group truly melted in the pot?'
Of the five groups Glazer and Moynihan discuss in Beyond the Melting Pot, the Jewish group holds particular interest for me as I am the child of Jewish immigrants and sometimes I wonder how long our group will maintain its identity. The Jews were one of the earliest ethnic groups to arrive in the United States of America, with 23 of them landing at New Amsterdam in 1654, while running from the Portuguese takeover of Brazil. Those Jews were Sepharadim, originating in Spain. The Ashkenazim, or those originating in Germany, came much later, in the 1800’s, but became the picture of what Americans viewed as Jews. The Ashkenazim were eager to assimilate. They were already similar to Americans in their secular attitudes and were accepted because of their having money, but just when they were almost completely Americanized, a new wave of immigrants came that redefined the image of the Jew. These new Jews who came from Southeast Europe were poor, were dirty, and most important, were different. The German Jews tried to separate themselves from the new stereotype but couldn’t hold themselves above it for long. They helped the new immigrants get on their feet while looking down on them. Soon enough, most of the new immigrants became middle class citizens and could support themselves and send their kids to good schools where they would become increasingly Americanized. This is where the digression from normal assimilation begins. Instead of becoming more mainstream, the Jews started to become even more different. With each new wave of Jewish immigration and as time goes on, the Orthodox movement grows as the Reform and Conservative movements shrink. Jewish parents are putting their kids into separate schools and the rules for maintaining separation seem to be getting stricter, with the most extreme example of this being the Hasidic group. What I see as the most recent wave of immigration of Jews is that of my own group, the Jews of Syria. While we seem to assimilate more into the mainstream in terms of culture and lifestyle, we have what is now the strictest rule on staying separate; we don’t accept converts or their children as potential partners for marriage. I don’t believe that the Jews have melted into the pot that is America, and I don’t believe they/we ever will.

Foner - 'Describe one similarity and one difference between the 2 waves of immigrants to New York City in terms of how they adapted to New York life.'
From what I’ve read, there doesn’t seem to be all that much difference between the old and new immigrants. I was actually surprised to see some parallels between the old immigrant story and that of my family and friends. The main similarity that I’ve noticed is the role of women in work, particularly those between adolescence and marriage. Foner says that young ladies in immigrant families of old had to work outside the home to support their families until they got married. Otherwise, it seems, the family could not get by. I don’t agree. If that were the case, what happened to the family when she got married and stopped contributing to the family income? I believe the case was actually very similar to what it is now for most of my close friends and other new immigrants. Girls who finish high school and are not married or going to college are expected to go to work. The reason is not because the family desperately needs the money. It’s for the girl to experience life for a while, at the same time helping the family obtain a few luxuries. The difference between the two waves of immigration when it comes to women in the workforce is that in the first wave women stopped working outside the home as soon as they got married. The main reason given is that a man shouldn’t have to feel the shame of needing his wife to work in order to support them. This idea isn’t completely gone from people’s minds but now most people look at it as if its nonsense. Women these days don’t necessarily work because they need to. Many work because they want to. In addition, women are no longer expected to turn over their salaries to their husbands/parents to deal with.

Class - 'Discuss multiculturalism, cultural pluralism, and assimilationism. Which one most accurately depicts New York City?'
The immigrant nature of America has made their assimilation, or lack thereof, a huge issue for debate. The three philosophies that emerged from these debates were multiculturalism, cultural pluralism, and assimilationism. The two that seem to be opposites are cultural pluralism and assimilationism, with multiculturalism somewhere in between. Assimilationism is the first philosophy of what immigrants should do when adopting a new country as their own. The best picture of assimilationism is that of the Melting Pot, in which immigrants completely adopt the new country’s culture and become unrecognizable from the rest of society. Multiculturalism came next as a philosophy for immigrants to follow. It came as a negative response to Assimilationism. According to Multiculuralism, immigrants should maintain their own customs and traditions and teach their kids to do the same. Different ethnicities would be mostly separate from the whole society, and the area would be divided amongst different cultures and ethnicities, with no group adopting the culture of another to a large extent. I believe the Salad Bowl is the best picture of Multiculturalism. Cultural Pluralism is what actually seems to be happening in New York City. Each group maintains some of its culture while embracing the overall culture of America. The groups are not very separate and are willing to share their respective culture(s) with others. Members of groups are recognizable, but are very changed from what they were upon arriving in the United States. The most significant thing that all members of the United States are expected to adopt is the use of the official language, English. Here, the picture of a Stew cooking in the oven is appropriate.

Ellis Island Pictures

More pictures are on facebook. These are the only worthwhile though. Still didn't figure out how to rotate. Oh well. It looks very neat. Thanks John!