There are currently so many debates about the “immigration problem” in the United States. The president and his administration have condemned immigrants for the past two plus years, villainized them as murders and rapists, and completely ignored their centuries of contributions to American society. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we stand shoulder to shoulder with immigrants from all nations and recognize and celebrate the ways in which they enrich our society.
Luckily for us there is a new temporary and FREE exhibit at the Tenement Museum in New York City. This special photography exhibit at no charge is on display every Saturday and Sunday until Sept. 8. Essentially, each weekend visitors can experience this pop-up exhibit which features contemporary photo portraits of immigrant business owners by photographer Tesfa Alexander. What makes the show so unique is that Alexander paired current photos of immigrant shop owners with historic photos of immigrant-owned businesses from the late 19th century to the 1970s. The link between immigrant contributions, past and present, is a beautiful display of humanity, dignity, prosperity and joy.
Throughout the summer I will be dedicating some of my columns to various free events in New York City, which will assist in our understanding of other cultures and their contributions. We are in what feels like a historically divisive time. There are far too many people in this country who do not see their fellow neighbors as human or worthy of respect. We have seen people put on trial for providing water to refugees in the desert, we have seen babies ripped from their parents’ arms as their mother and father are deported with no recourse, and we have seen adults view immigrant children as future gang members and worse.
It is my hope that as we continue to learn more about the people behind the “immigration debate,” we will further see them as parents, children and members of society who should be respected and protected. Now is not the time to play “oppression Olympics” and/or view immigrants as taking away scarce resources, now is the time to build coalitions with all groups who are seeking to make this country what it should be. Immigrants have always contributed to bettering this country. We are far from an ideal nation, but we make up the foundation of what the nation should and could be. We must create the democracy we want to see.
If you are interested in visiting the exhibit, go to Immigrants Mean Business: An Enduring History of Entrepreneurship on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.- 6:30 p.m., at the Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard St., New York, N.Y. Enter via the Museum Shop and Visitor Center. Exhibit on 2nd floor. Free and open to the public.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC, and the host of The Aftermath and The Counter on Ozy.com.