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NYThroughTheLens: An Immigrant's Dream

By Vivienne Gucwa


East Broadway, Chinatown, New York City

© VIVIENNE GUCWA
 East Broadway, Chinatown, New York City


Everyone seems to have their own image of New York City that represents so much more than just the geographical spot that New York City inhabits on any sort of map.

New York City has always been a destination for those seeking a generalized concept of a better life. As an economic lighthouse and a representation of (the steadily crumbling, nearly non-existent concept of) the American Dream, New York City has attracted people from all over the world.

I grew up the child of an immigrant to the United States. My mother's family fled Eastern Europe after World War II. Her family was a victim of the war— concentration camp and labor camp survivors who carried with them mental scars so deep that it took years to gain even a small foothold here.

I have always felt disconnected from her experience though. My mother wanted her children to blend in rather than stick out, as she did when she immigrated here. She did her best to give me and my brothers a fairly normal American childhood in Queens. A decade ago, after delving into my own fascination with the history of New York, I started to ask her about her own immigration story. Only then, did I start to understand the gravity of what it means to come to a place like New York City with little more than a massive amount of dreams.

Shortly after moving to the Lower East Side from elsewhere in Manhattan, I came across this street (the one in this photo) since it sits in a neighborhood that borders the Lower East Side and Chinatown and it felt as if I could finally understand what it must have been like for my mother and for all those who came to America with eyes full of hope.

It's not that my mother settled here. Rather it's as if this street has been steeped in a time when the world and New York City was a different place, one that held out vast amounts of fortune in its hands. The world has changed quite a bit since my mother first set foot here. It's harder to come here with next to nothing and make a decent life for yourself. The hands are still held out, but they are no longer outstretched for everyone.

When I look at this street today, I see many of the original tenements that were standing there one hundred years ago, when waves of immigrants came to New York City. Those who traverse this street today are not so far removed from my mother. It's as if, for the few minutes that I spend gazing at this street below as I often do, I am connected in a deeper way to all the dreamers that called and still call New York City their home.

Check out more of Vivienne's work at her blog, NYThroughTheLens.

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