Immigration Stories Class Visits NYC

News  /  by Eden Fesseha '19  /  October 16, 2015

This past Tuesday, the V Form Immigration Stories class, taught by History Master and Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program Dana Kooistra P’19, traveled to New York City to supplement its readings and research in class. Leaving campus at 7:15 AM, the class spent the day exploring various museums and landmarks significant to immigration to the U.S.

Kooistra identified the overarching theme of the course this term with the question “Who is an American and how has that changed over time?” She stated that the most important point she emphasizes in class is “how do we know [what is American]?” What we deem as “correct” or “true” is different based on the ways in which we interpret facts and highlight certain issues. These past few weeks, the students in the class have grappled with these questions as they pertain to Irish immigrants by studying various primary and secondary sources.

The students’ first destination was the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a  converted tenement apartment building that used to be home to nearly 7,000 working class immigrants. At the museum, the curators “[told] the stories” of the Irish families that once occupied the 19th-century building, the conditions in which the immigrants lived and the struggles that they endured. The objects the immigrants cherished most were also on display in the museum. Visiting the Tenement Museum helped  students to “understand how we became ‘us’ in the United States,” according to Kooistra. In addition, students learned how the curators choose which sources can shed light on history reliably and credibly. According to the curriculum, the Immigration Stories class will utilize the material they learned throughout the term.

The group also visited the Museum of Chinese in America which, according to its website, is  “a national home for the precious narratives of diverse Chinese American communities, and strives to be a model among interactive museums.” The immigration stories class viewed displays on past Chinese immigration and the lives of the descendants of Chinese immigrants now. It was exhibits like these that Jocelyn Hernandez ’16 asserted “gave [the group] better perspective on [the immigrants’] lives in comparison to the readings we did in class.” These exhibits also allowed students to compare patterns of immigration during the 20th century versus today.

The class concluded the trip with a ferry ride from Staten Island to St. George’s Terminal. Thinking about the day, Kooistra stated that there is great power in experiencing history off the page. “If we can get more Lawrenceville kids off campus, [...] it would really enrich their learning here,” she reflected.