Hester Street

Hester Street: Final Take

Hester Street: Take 1

A new semester brings for new relationships. Little did I know, I would begin a new relationship with none other than—a New York City street. Located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Hester Street stretches almost a mile long from Essex Street to Centre Street. Tracing back to its history, Hester Street is named for Hester Leisler. She was the daughter of Jacob Leisler, lieutenant governor of the British province of New York, who was unfortunately wrongly accused of high treason and hanged in 1697.

Don’t let its relatively small size fool you, its cultural immigrant history extends far and wide, as more than two million Jews from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary and the Balkans who after arriving in the United States settled on the Lower East Side, specifically on Hester street. These immigrants lived in tenements that were produced quickly and at low costs, often noted for their living conditions including minimal pulling and inadequate sanitation. Hester Street became the one of many streets in the Lower East Side in which Jewish culture and religion thrived. This included the establishments of many synagogues, Yiddish theater companies,Yiddish newspapers, and Yiddish and Hebrew publishers. Many of these immigrants earned money by selling goods including fruit, fish, meat, shoes, and clothing from pushcarts that filled the street market to make for a real traffic jam.

The market life still lives on today with the Hester Street Fair, which was established in 1895 and home to New York City’s largest and oldest pushcart markets. Located at the corner of Hester and Essex Street, the street fair’s mission is to sell quality goods and food but to also create a space that reflects the dynamic energy of the Lower East Side. It is currently run by The Big Social, composed of Suchin Pak, Ron Castellano, Adam Zeller, and Suhyun Pak. Today, partnering up with twelve various organizations and home to more than fifty vendors, Hester Street Fair still lives on and is open every Saturday from 10am to 6pm. To get to the fair, you can take the F train to East Broadway of the F, J, M, or  Z Train to Delancey.

One noteworthy organization that dwells on Hester Street is known as the Hester Street Collaborative. Founded in 2002, HSC incorporates the use of design to encourage social change in various local communities enforcing principles of design education, community design and advocacy. Located at 113 Hester Street, Hester Street Collaborative works to improve New York City neighborhoods, fostering a strong sense of community within its residents. Visit their website here: Hester Street Collaborative

Exploring its background and noteworthy history, I’ve come to find that Hester Street provides New Yorkers an area designed to support community learning through the development and preservation of local relationships amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. In time, I only expect my relationship with Hester Street will continue to grow and develop as I unfold its story.

Works Cited

“Hester Street Collaborative.” Hester Street Collaborative. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://hesterstreet.org/&gt;. “Hester Street Fair: About.” Hester Street Fair. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.hesterstreetfair.com/&gt;. Homberger, Eric. The Historical Atlas of New York City: a Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. 132-33. Print. Mendelsohn, Joyce. The Lower East Side Remembered & Revisited: History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood. New York City: Lower East Side, 2001. 132-34. Print. Photograph. Hester Street Collaborative – Facebook. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=412867946493&set=a.448264286493.238220.8811611493&type=1&gt; Photograph. Hester Street Fair. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.hesterstreetfair.com/wp-content/themes/hesterstreetfair/images/img2.jpg&gt;. Photograph. NY Magazine. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2011/04/whats_new_at_the_hester_street.html&gt;.

Hester Street: Take 2
Amidst the clamor of walking down a New York City street, I found myself at peace when I observed the entrance sign to Hester Street Playground. It is a clear escape to find solitude from the noise-ridden city environment.
Hester Street Playground is located within Sara D. Roosevelt Park between Chrystie and Forsythe Street. It reopened in June of 2010 after a total $5 million renovation. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place on June 17th, 2010  led by Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, City Council Member Margaret Chin, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) Director of Planning and Development Sayar Lonial, Community Board 3 Parks Committee Chair Thomas Yu, Hester Street Collaborative President Annie Frederick, and Cristina Roosevelt, great-great granddaughter of Sara D. Roosevelt, mother of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  (NYCGOVPARKS)
During the ceremony, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation President David Emil stated, ““LMDC is spending more than $280 million to expand and revitalize open spaces Downtown and this park is a fabulous example of how the federal, state and city governments are working together to improve neighborhoods.” (NYCGOVPARKS) Federal, state, and city grants and funds garnered almost $5 million dollars through grants and other additional support to renovate the crumbling and deteriorating park.
The playground is found within Sara D. Roosevelt Park, named by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1934 for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother during his administration. At 7.85 acres, the park was established in 1929 as part of a slum clearance initiative proposed by Robert Moses – a key figure in shaping the New York City urban landscape. Instead of widening Chrystie and Forsyth Streets to create various housing, they decided to construct playgrounds and resting places for mothers and children. (NYCGOVPARKS) Hester Street is one of the four streets, (the others being Broome, Rivington, and Stanton) that were closed off at certain parts to allow for construction of such areas of the park.

Children let loose on the playground. (via DNAInfo.com)

Whether you are swinging on the tire swings or relaxing in the sandbox, the Hester Street Playground offers a clean and safe outdoor space for children at play with their mothers watching from the sidelines. During my visit to the playground, I observed restored paving, abundant seating and picnic tables, excellent lighting fixtures, abounding shrubbery, drinking fountains, and even public restrooms. Yes, a playground is intended for kids; however, the park was booming with life as a meeting point for both the young and old to socialize with one another as kids slid down the slides, a family of tourists ate their lunch on the benches, and a group of elderly women played a game of cards. Planning the renovation of the playground, Hester Street Collaborative sought out input from the local residents among the neighborhood communities and asked what they wanted to see in such a playground.The strong sense of community is present once again, bringing forth the people of Chinatown and the Lower East Side to come together and value the recreational area. Revitalizing Hester Street Playground was not only a way to contribute to the Parks Department’s mission to build more parks in Lower Manhattan but it was a way in which community members, could collaborate with one another bringing ideas to help improve the design and layout of their neighborhood. The playground also embodies the very diverse nature of NYC bringing together people of many different backgrounds for socialization and interaction. The renewal of the Hester Street Playground is a unique example to show the ever-changing urban landscape. It exhibits the way in which people are somewhat maneuvering through the struggle between New York City’s formal grid-lock prescriptive architecture and our lived experiences with Hester Street Playground as it acts as a respected recreational center for all ages to unite as a whole.
Works Cited
“Parks Cuts Ribbon On Hester Street Playground.” New York Department of Parks and Recreation. 17 June 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_newsroom/press_releases/press_releases.php?id=20924&gt;.
“Hester Street Playground Opens to Children of Chinatown and Lower East Side.”  DNAinfo.com. 18 June 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2011. <http://www.dnainfo.com/20100618/manhattan/hester-street-playground-opens-children-of-chinatown-lower-east-side&gt;.
Hester Street: Take 3

In Walking in the City, Michel de Certeau notes, “The Concept-city is decaying.” (de Certeau 95) New York City was built on a grid system, developed to create a certain kind of living.  However, the city developed itself to be polysemic – bound to multiple interpretations and meanings from the people who inhabit it. Our lived experiences are unique as we find our own way in maneuvering the city streets. Every street has a story. We, the people of the city, are the authors who control where the story goes. If you look at Hester Street on a map, it seems like an ordinary city street. However, once you visit it in person, you see how exclusive it really is.

Beginning of Hester Street at Centre Street

Hester Street closes itself off to the city with Essex to the east, Canal to the south, Grand to the north and Centre to the west, boxing its existence from the rest of the city. I began my walk at the intersection of Centre and Hester.  The street was desolate on a rainy Friday morning. I barely felt any pedestrian presence. One thing I noticed at the hanging from the top of the traffic post on Center was a sign that wrote out the words  San Gennaro, an annual festival offering city goers a taste of the Italian culture. Streets were closed off as local eateries set up outside dining on the streets. Myself and others comfortably walked on the street along Hester observing the various establishments setting up their different booths. New Yorkers are notorious for walking when and where they’re not supposed to but this seemed special. In turn, I was getting a behind-the -scenes look on the making of such a festival before the hoards of locals and tourists had made their way in to for a taste of Italian cuisine. From Baxter to Mott, the Italian was everywhere. You could grab a coffee at Caffe Napoli or grab a meal at Puglia who considered themselves to have, “The Best Lunch Specials in Little Italy.”

Puglia - The Best Italian Lunch Specials

It was interesting to see the many historic establishments having been on Hester Street for decades supplying the locals with traditional Italian cuisine for years on end.  Not only exists an Italian population but an abundant Asian community for  it seems Hester Street exists as one NYC street that is a crosswords between the two prominent cultures. Local Asian establishments scour the blocks of Hester, including Kin Man Herb Shop, Munchies Paradise, Ho Ho Florist, Ho Won Bake Shoppe, and Hong Kong Supermarket. Sellers here, customers there, local strangers everywhere. You can’t help but notice the rich mult-cultural presence that exists on Hester. It was one of many

Kin Man Herb Shop - 173 Hester Street

streets of the Lower East Side in which tenements were built at low cost to house millions of  Jewish immigrants in the late 1800’s. When walking on a street, I tend to look either forward or down. This time, I found myself looking up and around observing the once cramped tenements. These structured buildings seemed to fade against the aggressive advertising of local store front. The local commerciality overrides its sense of living and sense of inhabiting.

Hester Street seems to be under a lot of construction as many New York City streets are. After Bowery, the sidewalk is closed down leaving only one side for pedestrians to walk on. One can observe the desolate construction zones at Hester Street Playground and Allen Street. Every form of construction seems static; unmoving juxtaposing the constant flow of movement along the streets. It seems as if the spaces of Hester Street remain constant in time both culturally and physically, like a page in a history book.

Sidewalk closed due to construction

An admirable trait about Hester Street is its sense of locality. No big franchises exist on Hester. Even if you looked hard enough, you wouldn’t find a trace of modern American commercial culture on that street. With time, the pace of Hester got faster. Normally I consider myself a fast paced NYC walker, however, I felt like I was off the pace of the Hester Street regulars who moved with such ease. Since we were forced to walk on one part of the sidewalk, there was a forced interaction. Not it the sense of speed but in the sense of the flow of movement – every store became a means to an end – a destination to fulfill a purpose. Everyone, whether a worker, customer, or loiterer, seemed to have a certain synchronized walking routine maneuvering their way through outside food markets and smokers along the sidewalk. Even with umbrellas, everyone seemed to know where they were going and which direction they were going in without even flinching as pedestrians each had his/her accustomed path over the sidewalks.

Emma Lazarus High School - 100 Hester Street

On the streets,  I observed the adults were out and the kids were in. At 100 Hester Street, I passed by the Emma Lazarus High School for English Language Learners. I thought to myself, who is Emma Lazarus? After research I found out that she was an American Jewish poet, best known for her sonnet, “The New Collosus,” whose lines appear on a plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. (2)
She writes,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (2)
The poem really incorporates the rich cultural history that dwells on Hester and how old and new cultures combine and interact one another to reflect upon the diversity that is characteristic of New York. Most of the signs for local establishments read in both English and other various languages. (predominantly Asian). Although many of the spaces that occupy the street seemed foreign and strange, they were somewhat welcoming in the fact I understood the local regular routine of the Hester Street dwellers. Hester Street moves as the people want it to move and how they want it to overall develop as a New York City Street path.”Their intertwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. In that respect, pedestrian movements form one of these ‘real systems whose existence in fact makes the city.’ They are not localized; it is rather they that spatialize. They are no more inserted within a container than those Chinese characters speakers sketch out on their hands with their fingertips.” (de Certeau 97)

Not only did I use my eyes, I used my ears. I listened. I listened as the cars splashed in the puddles that amounted during the rain storm. I listened as a woman bargained for prices at a souvenir shop. I listened to the sound the shuffling feet on the sidewalk as people made their way along Hester’s blocks. I listened to the distant buzzing of kids in their afternoon classrooms. Even though everything wasn’t completely coherent, this was the sound of Hester Street in all senses.

Retracing back my steps,  Hester Street was filled with its afternoon crowd, making their way through the various local establishments. I walked back, following the path to where I had begun, passing familiar spaces with a changed perspective on little ol’ Hester Street.

Works Cited
1.Certeau, Michel De. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. Print.
2. “About Our School.” Emma Lazarus High School. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <http://www.emmalazarus.org/home/overview&gt;.

Hester Street: Take 4

“The past remains in the detail of the present and can be retrieved from the everyday world…” (1) If you look on Hester Street, past the booming establishments that exist across the blocks, you will find an array of tenements that shadow the sidewalks. Between 1880 and 1920, millions of Jews from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary and the Balkans arrived and lived in the Lower East Side. These tenements were around five stories tall with four tiny apartments on each floor that housed around 100 people per building. “Most immigrants and workers remained in lower Manhattan neighborhoods, crammed into makeshift housing, often the former homes of merchants or artisans, hastily divided and reconverted into rental properties, called “rookeries.” Hygiene was abysmal, but owners drew considerable profits from them. Large families packed themselves within these tenements that were poorly ventilated and had minimal plumbing which thus resulted in inadequate sanitation and poor health conditions. (2) These tenements had entered permanently into the New York imagination which were built according to the clearly understood interests of the owners. (4)

A Section of a New York Times Article published on February 24, 1896

Upon walking on Hester Street, you would never realize the amount of history that exists behind closed doors of such tenements. These tenements have gone through some sort of, as Mary N. Woods notes, creative destruction, devouring an existing urban form to re-create itself again and again. These buildings reflect the historical lived experiences of immigrants that came to America back in the 1880s.  As Crang notes the notion of palimpsests which “…accumulate to bear silent witness to the passage of time – producing a landscape on which history inscribes itself as a process of addition, amendment and perpetual alteration.” (1) Perusing through the New York Times Historical database, I found several articles dealing with the conditions found within the tenements. Looking back in history, the dwellings on Hester were prone to accidents, fires, and crime.

Here are some of the highlights during the late 1800s to early 1900s:

In a New York Times article published on May 17, 1885 entitled “Typhus Fever in a Tenement,” discussed the tenement houses near Hester Street were under observation by the Sanitary Inspectors in which several cases of typhus fever were discovered. Traced back to an immigrant who came to the country on a German steamer (5)

In addition, a 1885 New York Times Article published on February 11th entitled, “More Unsafe Tenement Houses,” spoke about a meeting of the Board of Health in which the Sanitary Superintendent Day reported  that the tenement houses Nos. 55 and 55.5 Mulbery Street and No. 39 Hester Street were dangerous to human life due their want of repair. He noted that these tenements were unfair for human habitation, and he recommended that the premises be vacated within 10 days and not again occupied without a Board of Health permit. the orders for the vacation of the premises were issued. This incident illustrate the atrocious living conditions of the poorly-built tenements. (7)

In another New York Times article published on February 11, 1889, entitled, “Attempt at Arson” discussed the event in which a miscreant attempted to set fire at a tenement house at 7 Hester Street that occupied 16 families. Police called to the scene found in the corner of the cellar, a bundle of smoldering rages that had been saturated with kerosene oil and in the bundle were rolled two boxes of matches and a piece of burned slow fuse. This is one of the many examples in which tenements were subject to crime by miscreants creating a hostile and volatile environment to live in. (6)

Many fires occurred in the Hester Street tenements during the late 1800s and early 1900s. On February 2, 1892, the New York Times article, published an article “Leaped to Escape Flames” The sub-headline reads, “PANIC FOLLOWS A FIRE IN AN OVERCROWDED TENEMENT.” A fire stated in a tenement in the rear of 87 Hester Street, that occupied about 80 persons, leaving eight persons fatally injured, two in which were stated to die from the sustained injuries. The panic of the occupants of the tenement resulted in the overcrowding upon one another until the fire escapes were overloaded. The damages were overlooked seeing as the building was already cheap in construction and the tenants had nothing of great value. (8)

On April 14, 1905, the New York Times published an article “Fire Routs out Hundreds” The tenants of five or six story horses on Hester and Forsyth Streets were cleared out around 2AM when a fire started in the the five-story “sweat shop” building at 129 and 131 Hester Street. Thousands scoured the streets to get away from the roaring flames. Tenements that lived at 63 and 65 Forsyth Street were also affected as the brands from the fire ignited the window casings of these tenement which were take out with much difficulty.Public School No. 7 at Chrystie and Hester caught fire located diagonally across the sweatshop building. More than 150 people were rescued. (9) Many immigrants earned a living in the garment industry whether it was laboring in their apartments doing piecework or “working in sweatshops—workshops that were squeezed into tenements or loft buildings—and were crowded, poorly lit, stifling in the summer and cold in winter. Wages were low and hours long.” (2)

Crimes, fires, and unsafe living conditions swept through the historic tenements of Hester Street highlighting the struggles and adversities faced by the immigrants that dwelled there. Jewish immigrant and journalist, Jacob Riis’ revealing photos were featured in his 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, influencing  housing reforms including the Tenement House Law of 1901 and the creation of the Tenement House Commission. This resulted in the enforcement of new safety and health standards for New York’s overcrowded tenement buildings and furthered the progress of urban renewal. (10) Today, Hester’s tenements are overlooked by the commercial culture that resides on the ground level. This idea is relates to Crang’s references to revalorization who states, “The revalorization comes about under the sign of historic values and also under the sign of new values being inscribed upon the landscape, where the connotations to local residents – whom it reminds us at every turn of their histories, communities, and identities – may be deemed unhistoric and replaced by a new landscape responding to a different history.” (1) Whether we acknowledge it or not, the various histories and lived experiences of Hester Street exists within the tenement’s walls.

Works Cited
1. Crang M, 1996, “Envisioning urban histories: Bristol as palimpsest, postcards, and snapshots” Environment and Planning A 28(3) 429 – 452

2. Homberger, Eric. The Historical Atlas of New York City: a Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. 132-33. Print.

3. Resina, Joan Ramon., and Dieter Ingenschay. “After-Images of the “New” New York and the Alfred Stieglitz Circle.” After-images of the City. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2003. Print.

4. Weil, François. A History of New York. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. 104-106 Print.

5. “Typhus Fever in a Tenement.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0B15F93F5411738DDDAD0A94D0405B8284F0D3&gt;.

6. “Attempt at Arson.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70D1EF63E5E15738DDDA80994DA405B8984F0D3&gt;.

7. “More Unsafe Tenement Houses.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA091FF93F5B10738DDDA10994DA405B8584F0D3&gt;.

8. “Leaped to Escapes.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30D15FC355D15738DDDAB0894DA405B8285F0D3&gt;.

9. “Fire Routs Out Hundreds.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times. Web. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10B15F9385E12738DDDAD0994DC405B858CF1D3&gt;.

10. “History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Home. Web. 03 Oct. 2011. <http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/4471&gt;.

Hester Street: Take 5

Retracing back my steps through the history of Hester Street, I continued to analyze the region of New York City from 1880 to 1930 using archival evidence. Going through the Social Explorer database, I had the chance to see the population change within the New York City region including the difference between the number of foreigners and natives living in the city.  Hester Street wasn’t particularly a main and specific focus in various census reports that observed but I wanted to see the general makeup of New York City. I wanted the see how the population density changed during the surge of immigrants, primarily Jewish, coming to America and settling in the Lower East Side, specifically on Hester Street.

Social Explorer Census Map in 1880 and in 1930

As you can see between the maps, population stayed within the highest range of people living in Manhattan.

Census Report in 1880 and 1990 of the New York County

Map of Population Density of NYC in 1930

Chart of Total and Foreign-born Population of NYC

Analyzing the census report, there was a significant increase in total population, population density  between 1880 and 1930. In the map of population density from the New York City Department of Planning, Hester Street resides in the ares in which there 250 to 349 person per acre. It was one of the areas of NYC that reflected a high number of occupants living in the region. In the last chart you can observe the change in number of total and foreign-born population in NYC. In 1880, the foreign-born population came to be 478, 670. Fifty years later in 1930, that number jumped to almost 2, 3358, 686—almost five times the amount fifty years prior. This reflects the migration of immigrants entering the city between that range of years as did many Jewish immigrants who resided on Hester on the Lower East Side. It’s interesting to observe the change in numbers due to urbanization.

I also had the chance to observe Hester Street on a Digital Sanborn map in 1913…

Sanborn maps are very useful to observe the urban geography of New York City and its specific streets. It was interesting to find out that these maps were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability in urbanized areas in the United States. Hester Street was especially prone to fires due to tenement living conditions and the high crime rate so these maps coincidentally relate to the development of urban areas including New York City. Kim Keister describes the legacy of Sanborn maps: “Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanizations that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind.”(3)

One of the most interesting things I found when looking through archival evidence was the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection of photos. I had the chance to look at various photos of Hester Street almost a century ago compared to my experience, observing it now in recent times.

Hester Street - Essex Street (1905)

Jewish Chicken Market at 55 Hester Street in 1930s

Hester Street - Norfolk Street in the 1930s

You can observe the rich Jewish culture and the immense amount of people that worked and lived on Hester Street. The street became one of the important areas of the Jewish immigrant community during the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. Although the cultural makeup of the region has changed with the introduction of Asian and Italian influence, we can look back at the essence of Jewish heritage on Hester Street through archival evidence.

Works Cited


1. Social Explorer



2.Map and Chart from the New York City Department of Planning – Population Division



3. Keister, Kim (May/June 1993). “Charts of Change”. Historic Preservation 45 (3): 42–49.

4. Proquest Digital Sanborn Map of 1913 (Sheet 4)

5. New York Public Library Digital Gallery




Hester Street: Take 6

Fiction’s relationship place is significant in the way we analyze New York City streets. Upon researching works of fiction related to Hester Street, I came across a novel by Anzia Yezierska entitled, Bread Givers: A Struggle between a Father of the Old World and a Daughter of the New.

Bread Givers Book BCover

The work reflects the meaning of the American dream by a family of Jewish immigrants that lived in the Lower East Side. The first chapter, coincidentally, entitled Hester Street introduces the reader to Sara Smolinsky, a ten year old girl, one of three other sisters in a family of six, reflecting on the conditions of living on Hester Street in the late nineteenth century. She recounts on the struggle against poverty, family, and tradition to break out of the ghetto. (1)

Upon reading the first chapter, I came across this significant passage:
“I didn’t hear. I couldn’t listen to their smartness. I was burning up inside me with my herring to sell. Nothing was before me but the hunger in our house, and no bread for the next meal if I didn’t sell the herring. No longer like a fire engine, but like a houseful of hungry mouths my heart cried, ‘Herring—herring! Two cents apiece!’…I counted my greedy fifty pennies. Twenty-five cents profit. Richer than Rockefeller, I felt. I was always saying to myself, if I ever had a quarter or a half dollar in my hand, I’d run away from home and never look on our dirty house again. But now I was so happy with my money, I didn’t think of running away, I only wanted to show them what I could do and give it away to them. It began singing in my heart, the music of the whole Hester Street. The pushcart peddlers yelling their goods, the noisy playing of children in the gutter, the women pushing and shoving each other with their market baskets—all that was hollering noise before melted over me like a new beautiful song. It began dancing before my eyes, the twenty five herring that earned me my twenty-five  cents. It lifted me in the air, my happiness. I couldn’t help it. It began dancing under my feet. And I couldn’t stop myself. I danced into our kitchen. And throwing the fifty pennies, like a shower of gold, into my mother’s lap, I cried, “Now, will you yet call me crazy-head? Give only a look what  ‘Blood-and-iron’has done.” (1)

Ironic Telephone Booth Ad at the Corner of Orchard and Hester

Central themes of New York City fiction pieces are expressed in Bread Givers. First, the preoccupation of business and money-making. The Smolinsky household engages in the need to earn more money and economic covetousness. Sara has to earn money to maintain her family’s well-beingShe and her sisters have to constantly work to keep the landlord from pestering them for the rent whether it was working at a pushcart or a shirt factory. There is an attempt to represent speech to convey Sara’s speed, rhythm and particularities. It is evident as you can sense the urgency in Sara’s voice as she recounts the story of selling herrings on the street, committed and passionate to fix the starvation that was occurring in her home. You can almost hear her voice ringing through Hester Street to make some change for a loaf of bread to bring home for dinner. You can sense her excitement as she received twenty-five cents profit, as she recalls it feeling richer than Rockefeller. It makes us step back and evaluate our own situation and the things we take for granted.

Along with the historical evidence of the horrible conditions of tenements on the Lower East Side, you can imagine the cramped living situation of Smolinksy household. Sara states, “The school teacher’s rule, ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place,’ was no good for us, because there weren’t enough places.”(1) If they didn’t get work, they would be thrown in the street to shame and to laughter for the whole world to see. The goal always in life was to make money and continue to live another day. Another theme is the city’s contradictory faces of glamour and squalor. The squalor focus is evident in Sara’s situation with rundown back alley tenements on Hester Street as the backdrop. It really brings to life the notion of the haves and have nots. Although Sara is not satisfied with the way she is living, she does everything in her power to make her parents happy even stealing unburned pieces of coal from ash cans in the streets to burn for a fire. Even though she felt it made her look like a beggar and a thief, she would hate to disappoint her family. It seems as if Sara has to constantly prove herself to her family as well as prove her own self worth to herself. She is truly selfless. With the backdrop of the large dense urban population, you can really sense the essence of the pushcart market that existed on Hester Street many years ago. You hear the wheels rolling down the street with the peddlers shouting for a penny or two to at least to finish off the day with something to eat. Hearing the music of Hester Street, Sara was home. One of the most important themes of NYC fiction that is evident in the novel is the process for finding one’s way through the city. It really shows how Sara struggled to overcome the obstacles of living in such a big city, fighting against the turmoil of living at home alienated from following her own dreams.

Anzia Yezierska

Anzia Yezierska was a Jewish immigrant herself revealing in her stories the way in which women encountered the new world and tried to reconcile with the old. Millions of Jewish immigrants came to live the American dream, yet only to find a life of hardship and adversity. Old world values including the heavy focus on religious injunction affected the way in which the family was structured. In the Smolinsky household, all the women worked to collect wages while the father, Reb Smolinsky studied the Torah. Although women complained often and bitterly, Jewish faith provided both solace and rationalization for their hard life. Only men could study the Torah. Reb Smolinsky clung to old paths, spending his days in holy study while remaining untempted by money. (1) Overall, the story gives witness the struggle of transitioning into life in America and the conflicts that would arise due to housing conditions, poverty, starvation, etc. You can see the backdrop of the dense urban immigrant population with geographical enclaves as in this case the Jewish immigrant community that  populated Hester Street and the rest of the Lower East Side. it goes to show that transition isn’t always going to be smooth. Fiction works to offer a personalized point of view to the audience. The author places the audience with a subjective point of view that invites interpretations not usually afforded by other sources of media while expressing the relationship between fiction and geography. Fiction relies on the use of space to place narratives in a credible reality and gives truth about details of space in particular—Hester Street. Although the work is fiction, you can hear the reality of life in Sara’s voice and imagine the lived experiences of immigrants that dwelled on Hester Street on the Lower East Side.

As this entry called to relate to a work of fiction, I thought I would try my hand at writing about a character living on Hester Street in the late nineteenth century…

A bathtub of water couldn’t wash the dirt and filth that existed on my body. A sleepless night, I laid awake with my body against the cold floor. I couldn’t move as countless number of bodies lay asleep all around me in that small tenement at 146 Hester Street. All I could do was breathe. My thoughts were endless. Who could I be? Where could I go? I knew the answers to those questions: nobody; nowhere. I never anticipated when I could see the darkness fading away and the sun making its way into the sky. That meant a new day of the pushcarts making their way on the street with peddlers yelling for someone to hear them. That meant a new day of struggle for me and my family to find work or put food on the table. That meant a new day of wearing the same raggedy clothes I had been wearing for days on end. That meant a new day of sleeping in that hazardous tenement that provided no means of escape. That meant a new day of feeling that America wasn’t the dream I spent endless nights thinking of. That meant a new day on Hester Street…

Tenement at 199 Hester Street today

Works Cited

1. Yezierska, Anzia. Bread Givers. New York: Alice Kessler Harris,1975. V, 8, 22-23. Print.

2. NYPL Digital Gallery


3.  Anzia Yezierska

4. Bread Givers Photo

Hester Street: Take 7

“Film appears to capture the ‘flow of life’ of the city but it is in fact a patchwork of time-spaces, stitched together in a seemingly seamless sequence.”
—Steve Pile, The Problem of London
Pile argues that the city brings constant movement, becoming dreamlike with its procession of ghostly figures. It is something to be decoded like a dream during the night. A film slows down the movement of a particular city. In The Problem of London, Steve Pile writes, “…it is these very slowing down that enables us to see and to hear, to experience, something of the speed and the intensity of the city, with its forgotten pasts, its secret presents, its openness, its sheer quantity, its indifference, its irreducible antagonisms, its surfaces its brilliance, its colour saturation.” (1)New York City has been a prominent location and its flow of life has been a constant theme for various films throughout history. Half of these films depict the city as harmless while the others as harsh and unwelcoming. We take a look at a depiction that lies in between in “Hester Street” (1975), written and directed by Joan Micklin Silver.

"Hester Street" Movie Poster

The black and white film, starring Steven Keats and Carol Kane, tells the story of the Jewish immigrant experience in America. We are first introduced to Yankel, played by Keats, who has settled in the Lower East Side on Hester Street in 1896. He has left his family behind along with the traditional values of the Old world. He changes his name to Jake, speaks English rather than Yiddish, shaves off his beard and updates his wardrobe to fit in with the Americans, or whom he refers to as the “Yankees”.
Unlike many Jewish immigrants dwelling on the Lower East Side, he earns a good living, making twelve dollars a week, sewing clothes in a sweatshop with his good friend, Bernstein. In one scene, the boss goes on and on with a superior tone, reflecting on the difference of status between his workers and himself. He picks on Bernstein, questioning his job in the old country as a Yeshiva student. The boss who was once a peddler is laughing at their respective positions. He boasts, “The peddler becomes a boss, and the yeshiva bocher sits at the sewing machine.” Although the boss is the epitomizes the American dream, obtaining great opportunities, and rising in the American social ladder, he also strays from the general respect people had of Talmudic scholars in the Old World. This scene captures the possibility of making it in America but twists it in that makes the viewer side more with Bernstein and sympathize with the boss’ harsh remarks of his traditional values.
The film takes the Jewish immigrant experience into a different perspective, focusing not on the harsh living conditions, but the difficulty in adapting to the American lifestyle. The film captures the mood of conflicting cultures (the Old World versus the New World) and the transition of life on the individual and how he/she identifies with other members of the community. Jake lives happily in America, engaging in affairs with another woman while his wife and son remain in Russia. However, one day, he receives a letter in the mail, revealing that his father has passed away. This in turn, results in the journey of his wife and son to America who had stayed with his father—something he doesn’t seem to want. To prepare for their coming, he rents and buys furniture for an apartment by borrowing money from his mistress Mamie and having Bernstein stay in the apartment to help with the new rent. He picks up his wife Gitl, played by Carol Kane,  and son Yossele at Ellis Island with an uneasy feeling that he must care for them. He seems embarrassed when the Ellis Island worker asks, “For what purpose are you bringing in this woman?” Jake is clearly agitated and yells back, “This woman is my wife and that’s all.”
Jake is the epitome of the New World culture while Gitl is the epitome of the Old World culture. She can’t seem to fully assimilate herself in the American lifestyle. Jake enforces his son to be called Joey and cuts off his locks, exclaiming that he looks much better now. There is constant tension between the two. In one scene, when they are back at the apartment, Gitl tries to embrace Jake in a loving matter but he won’t have it.Gitl: “I didn’t know you at first. I thought you were a nobleman.”(Placing her arms away from his neck and looking down at her)Jake: “You are in America now. In America, they don’t wear wigs.”Gitl: “I have a kerchief.”Jake: “They don’t wear kerchiefs either.”Gitl: “Yankel, I can’t go around with my own hair. I’m a married woman.”Jake: “All right, put on your kerchief.”(Shuts the door and leaves)

It seems as if Jake finds Gitl restricting from living as a real “Yankee”. Gitl has to live hidden as Jake is embarrassed to take her around for she refuses to change her traditional wardrobe and mindset. Pile describes film as traveling through and moving in time and space in the labyrinth of the city. To find a memory, one needs to locate it, find its location, and to search its past and see the ways in might have been. (1) By reestablishing connections to other places, we can really grasp the mood and experiences of the people of the Hester Street—in this case through Jake and Gitl. Silver draws on the city life on street in one particular scene. Jake takes his son, Joey for a stroll on Hester Street. You can really grasp the push market lifestyle and its constant flow of movement. Pile describes that film can move between places, capturing simultaneities and connections that are, in many ways, ‘at a distance’ for example, by cutting between one event and another, or by moving backwards or forwards in time, or by panning or zooming, in and out. (1) As opposed to many other scenes in the movie, this one starts off with a catchy, cheerful tune. You can hear no one talking except for the woman peddlers who are trying to earn a penny. The camera moves in a horizontal manner following Jake and Joey on their walk on Hester cutting between various scenes that depict the market lifestyle and the NYC flow. Children running and playing on wheel carts in the street. Horse drawn carriages carrying people to and fro. Peddlers socializing with one another. A woman bargaining prices for potatoes. A woman with a basket of pretzels to sell. A man looking at a pair of boots. A man pushing a fish in a customer’s face. A closeup of a man selling carpet and rugs. A woman de-feathering a chicken. At one point, Jake points and says horse to Joey who he asks to repeat. Joey says, “Horse!” and Jake is delighted at his progress of learning English. The camera zooms in and out on the wooden pushcarts in the street cutting through the many scenes while intertwining with the focus of Jake and Joey making their way through the crowd. Silver really tries to capture the essence of Hester Market and the people who lived there including their words, actions, emotions and modes of feelings. Pile recounts that with film we get a sense of the multiple and overlapping (hi)stories and geographies that make up the cityscape. (1) Watching films, we observe scenes, knowing the actors in the film can’t look back at us. Acknowledging this in the film experience we feel that we have an inside perspective without affecting the actions of the characters themselves. In addition, as viewers, we identify with characters that we see at the screen; so looking at Jake showing Joey around in a new place makes us sympathize with the overwhelming feeling of adapting to a new environment.

The tension between Jake and Gitl continues on throughout the movie. While Jake distances himself more and more, Gitl gets to know Bernstein who spends his nights studying as well as teaching young Joey the Yiddish language. Knowing that separation is inevitable, Jake and Gitl decide to get divorced. The viewers get a chance to observe a customary Jewish divorce. Ironically, this is the first time you see Gitl embrace the American culture, leaving at home her kerchief, wig, and custom dress and wearing conventional female New Yorker dress and hat. The last two scenes, the viewer sees Jake and Gitl go off in two directions. Jake goes towards the top left side of the screen, walking off after just marrying Mamie, his mistress. The next scene cuts to Gitl, walking towards the bottom right side of the screen, with Bernstein (who appreciates her love of traditional customs) and Joey. Gitl assures Bernstein he can continue being a Talmudic scholar and studying ancient texts while she will go out and be a peddler to earn money for the family. The new family thus will continue to adapt to the New World while incorporating some of the Old World ideas as well. The former couple walk in opposite directions and take with them different values and customs. The film demonstrates the struggles that were involved in the assimilation to a new culture filled with new ideas and practices; the oonflict between the the Old and the New.

Jake and Mamie walk off after getting married

Gitl, Joey, and Bernstein walking off into a new life together

The Sacramento Bee published an article on December 24, 2004 on “Hester Street,” entitled, Old Meets New Hester Street Captures Jewish Immigration Struggles in Early 1900s. The independent movie was made with $375,000; however, it had trouble with distribution. The article states, “Although Hollywood studios have always had significant Jewish leadership – which has been a source of anti-Semitic vitriol from the 1920s through the present day – the same studios have historically been reluctant to make movies that were considered ‘too Jewish.'” (2) People hesitated at the fact that the movie might depict the Jewish lifestyle too much which is ironic given the fact that the purpose of the film was to really grasp the Jewish immigrant experience. One producer actually suggested to change the characters to Italians. The film was distributed and received rave reviews from various film festivals, becoming “one of the most successful independent films of its era.” (2) Carol Kane, who played Gitl, stated in an interview that the movie was a, “a great gift” to enable her to learn about the history of her people and “have the opportunity to represent so many of our ancestors.” (2)Film relies on the direct experience of the city on human emotions through which these emotions are to be registered and experienced. (1) The movie captures the feeling that everything seems to go together; an aspirational way of being in the city—walking through the market-driven street of Hester and taking in the lived experiences of the Jewish immigrants.  If you’re looking for a film to introduce to an unfamiliar and seldom depicted culture , give “Hester Street” a chance.Works Cited1. Hester Street. Dir. Joan Micklin Silver. Midwest Films. 1975.2. “Old Meets New Hester Street Captures Jewish Immigration Struggles in Early 1900s ; DVDS.” The Sacramento Bee: TK.32. ProQuest. Dec 24 2004. Web. 25 Oct. 2011 <https://ezproxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/246649801?accountid=12768>.Photographs
Screenshots from Hester Street. Dir. Joan Micklin Silver. Midwest Films. 1975.http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTc2MDczOTI1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTM5MjcyMQ@@._V1._SY317_CR5,0,214,317_.jpg

Hester Street: Take 8

The sun went down on Hester Street. The darkness crept along the sidewalks not leaving one speck of concrete hidden from its territorial expansion. What happens to ol’ Hester Street when the light switches from natural to artificial?The loads of people that crowd the street are replaced by cars. Hester Street picks up speed as cars try to make their way around the small blocks. I observe a small traffic jam. This is in clear opposition to the day, in which Hester is rarely driven across for most people make their way by walking or biking. The streets are filled with parked cars lining up in perfect symmetry on each side. The very few people on the street either are closing up shop for the day, cutting through as a shortcut or making their home behind the tenement walls. Joachim Schlör recalls in his work, Nights in the Big City, the idea of night revellers who are wanderers that make “noise.” They visit places of nocturnal entertainment which includes bars, pubs, cabarets, etc. for amusement. You wouldn’t find many night revellers over here on this street.

Cars crowding up on Hester

The city that never sleeps actually does take a nap. Around 8:30, most establishments are closed for the day, leaving one to view countless number of metal gates upon gates down along each block. The lights are turned off inside but lights flicker on outside to those who have signs lit. These signs are colorful, directional, and spectacled providing as to what we should pay attention to and where are eyes should follow. It seems to me you pay more attention to these signs during the night compared to  the day.

Closed up shop on Hester

Closed Gates on Hester

Bright Lights from Hester Street's Signs

Amongst all the closed shops, the cross street of Mulberry and Hester is a particular part of that really lights up quiet Hester. On each four corners of the block exist a distinct Italian restaurant (Caffe Napoli, Da Gennaro, Giovanna’s and Casa Bella) all competing for people to come in and enjoy a late night dinner. There is a certain attraction to these eateries and their aggressive advertising shows us where the fun is and where it isn’t.  As Schlör notes, “these places, cafes, restaurants, cafe-concerts, honky-tonks, variety theaters, and bars are part of the furniture of the nocturnal street, without it would lose a great deal of its power of attraction.” (1) The night time walk proved to be a bit eerie so I felt encouraged to go inside one of these restaurants as a way of escaping contact with the dark street as Schlör notes to “avoid acquaintance with the unhappy parts of the night.” (1) This is turn reveals civilization’s accepting its own existence of its own shadow side.

Four Competing Italian Restaurants at the Cross street of Hester and Mulberry

During my walk, one establishment that caught my eye was the Wash N’ Go Laundromat. Still open, I peered through the window from across and saw numerous bags that crowded the little shop. I wondered if people could actually move in there. What was interesting was that a little group, females and males, of all different ethnicities, had formed outside the door who seemed to be waiting for their laundry to finish. It was as the night gave birth to a little community of local residents who spent their nights to do a load of laundry. During the morning and afternoon, there exists a constant flow of movement. The night allowed this group of individuals to stop on the sidewalk, stand and socialize to reflect on how the day went.

Wash N' Go Laundromat and its Crowd

The night walk down Hester continued. Mark Caldwell’s New York Night, he recalls the Armory Hall, a concert saloon owned by Billy McGlory during the 1890s. It was “…a haunt so infamous that it had been condemned (and thus incidentally publicized) from far away as Cincinnati. (2) Cancans and private rooms, the Armory was notorious for its extravagant escape during the night. However, as Schlör  notes, the street represents a fundamentally dangerous terrain and so there are attempts to ‘cleanse’ it, to drive out the elements of disorder and immorality. (1) In time, Armory Hall did in fact shut down. I passed 156-60 Hester Street which are now various Asian shops and establishments. It’s interesting to acknowledge how the area has transformed from being a former underground place of illicit activity. Once a crime-ridden area has now somewhat cleaned itself up through history.

156-160 Hester Street Now at Night

My walk extended to Hester Street Playground. As I took a rest on the bench, I observed a garbage can beside me. What was so distinct was the train of giant rats climbing up and down perusing through the filth. They strode with much confidence as if the night afforded them a cloak to roam around as they pleased. It gave them the feeling as if they were invincible. If that were to happen in the day, people would scream and shout in fear of the little creatures. But the night gave them the opportunity to wander freely with little notice from the pedestrians of the night. The presence of rats increase as the shadows cloud over the sidewalks as they are free from the normal behavior that the day affords to them.

Schlör describes the enterprise transformation of the night. He states, “The hectic pace of the day-time traffic slackens off, the atmosphere of the city calms down, and the streets become easier to walk again. But new restrictions limit the capacity for observation; in the interplay of light and shadow many outlines become more clear; others, however, disappear.”(1) The night to me seems to be contradictory. The artificiality that lit up Hester did not fully account for the shadows that lurked among the corners and what mystery still remains to be uncovered. I hope to find out more. But for now, let’s call it a night.

Night's Cloak on Hester

Works Cited

1. Schlör, Joachim. Nights in the Big City. Reaktion Books, 1998

2. Caldwell, Mark. New York Night: The Mystique and its History. “Electric Lights and Brass Knuckles.” Simon and Schuster 2001

Hester Street: Take 9

“Cityscapes exercise enormous rhetorical power over public imagination. “
The images that we see on television have a lasting effect on how we view the world geographically and the ideas we impose on these places. William J. Sadler and Ekaterina V. Haskins discuss this idea in their work, Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.Television shows create what they call a “postcard effect” in which we as viewers take on the role of the tourist spectator,a disposition that both reflects and legitimizes a fragmented experience of visiting a location without immersing oneself in the intricacies of its politics and geography. (1) We don’t really get a sense of what the city is like. We obtain a collection of fragmented images to represent the idea of a whole The city’s representation are concentrated and limits the scope of knowledge on the particular area. Thus these televisions shows either portray an  attempted reality of life in New York City.We can analyze this idea through the example of HBO’s hit show, How to Make it in America. From the producers of Entourage, the show chronicles the lives of two enterprising Brooklyn twenty somethings as they hustle their way through New York City, determined to achieve the American Dream. Trying to make a name for themselves in New York’s competitive fashion scene, Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) and his friend and business partner Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk) use their street knowledge and connections to bring their ambitions to fruition. The entrepreneurs set out to make it big, encountering obstacles along the way that will require all their ingenuity to overcome. (2)

Poster for How to Make it in America

The television show has taken over many streets and areas of the Lower East Side either adjacent or close by to Hester Street including Sara D. Roosevelt Park Grand (Parallel to Hester), the Bowery, Essex, Chrystie, Eldridge, Rivington, Delancey, East Houston, etc. The Bowery Boogie jokes, that with so many activity. they should just rename the show How to Make it in the Lower East Side. (3)
Unlike many other television productions, How to Make it in America shoots on location without the help of production studios. They film on real streets in New York City but in their attempt to depicts the lives of two New Yorkers trying to make it, certain aspects of  Hollywood’s artificiality always factors in.

The Bowery Boogie published a Craigslist casting call for the show at the beginning of September 2009:

Central Casting is starting to cast for a new HBO show called “HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA” from the creators of “ENTOURAGE”. The show takes place in the world of fashion and hipsters. The show will be shooting in NYC in all the hottest and trendiest locations. The categories we are looking to cast for are:
Hipsters! Hipsters! Williamsburg types or LES. People with great wardrobe. Ages 20′s and 30s
Models- Female and Male
Indie Rock Band Types (let us know if you can play instrument)
Lower East Side Domincan or Hispanic types (all ages)
Hip and Trendy types with Real Bartending experience
Hipsters with Tattoos
Skateboarders (3)

Another casting call was also published in November 2009…

Central Casting is looking to cast people that can portray Japanese hipsters for the HBO show “How To Make It In America” from the producers of “Entourage”. This is a speaking role so you must have knowledge of the Japanese language and be able to have a Japanese accent speaking english. Age range is 20′s to 30′s with a hipster or lower east side look. The shoot date would be either Friday 11/20 or Monday 11/23. When submitting please include a picture and the best contact number. (4)

Craiglist Casting Call for Japanese Hipsters via The Bowery Boogie

These casting calls thus further the idea of painting an image of the city that people further associate it with.  According to How to Make it in America’s portrayal, New York seems to be a city mainly filled trendy, fashionable hipsters. Although the demographic may exist, the show gives the audience a sense of what the WHOLE city may be like, which thus manipulates their understanding of the space and the reality of the people actually living there. These casting calls presents the artificiality. As Haskin and Sadler refer to Umberto Eco, Within time, the recurring metonymic representation of the city makes people forget about the real New York.
The city image becomes a postcard, for “what counts . . . is not the authenticity of a piece, but the amazing information it conveys” (1) The glitz and glam of Hollywood and the yearning to represent the friendlier side of the city. It brings forth the idea of a concept city noted by Michel De Certeau, which is a fantasy that motivates planners and reformers in their desire to make the cityan object of knowledge and a governable space. They dream of encompassing the diversity, randomness, and dynamism of urban life in a rational blueprint, a neat collection of statistics, and a clear set of social norms. New York becomes unified in the discourse of television shows and the dominant images that portray the city. (1)

People don’t actually grasp the reality of the area itself and the complex nature of filming in certain locations.  Chinatown and the Lower East Side are prime locations for film and television production. Knowing this, such productions actually interrupt the flow within neighborhoods causing resistance of such work. How to Make it in America shot in the Lower East Side for weeks on end during production. In a 2006 City Limits article, entitled, Fed Up with Filming: Chinatown Resists, I-Ching Ng writes, “Rather than seeing film and television production as a chance to boost Chinatown’s image or generate profits, many neighborhood residents and shop owners consider it a chronic problem that disrupts daily life and exacts a costly toll on their small businesses. (5) Ng notes on how these production crews impede on vehicle and pedestrian traffic that ultimately slow down the routines of business and residents. Nowhere is this inconvenience more detrimental than in Chinatown, where the neighborhood’s narrow streets make it difficult for film crews and residents to coexist. Film production blocks off parking and sometimes entrances to local establishments. This causes a significant loss in revenue for independent owners who rely on thru traffic to survive. Some business owners retaliated, chose to bang pots that ultimately disrupted production that  in the prolong the process of actually filming the scene. (5) Thus television shows affect the way in which people accept a representation of New York City as well as affect the people who are actually living the reality.

These various images becomes an anchor that boils down the meaning of New York City to a metonymy, a part that stands for the whole. (1) This  relates to Jean Baudrillard’s idea of simulation, which is the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented . . . the representations become more important than the “real thing.” We often Baudrillard argues that today we only experience prepared realities- edited war footage, meaningless acts of terrorism, the Jerry Springer Show. He says, “The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. . . The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal. . . which is entirely in simulation. The illusion is no longer possible because the real is no longer possible.” (6) These effects have the potential to lead to brief moments in which many diverse meanings are superimposed, one upon the other, as they suggest multiple associations they may have with the content of the programs. The complex situations of the program, along with the multi-layered characterization of each character give the program a sense of “realness” that causes the audience to treat these characters and locations as actual people and places. The blurred lines between reality and fiction that exists within the program is part of television’s form of “presentness”, or its implicit claim to be live that founds the impression of immediacy, and thus, reality.Therefore, when the audience becomes fully engaged within the symbolic reality presented through television, meaning is created through the disengagement with actual reality, as viewers create and apply concepts to their personal ideologies of the different spaces being represented.

Works Cited

1.Sadler, William J. and Haskins, Ekaterina V. Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City. Journal of Communication Inquiry July 2005 vol. 29 no. 3 195-216

2. http://howtomakeitinamerica.com/about/

3. http://www.boweryboogie.com/2009/09/how-to-make-it-in-america-filming-on-bowery/


5. http://www.citylimits.org/news/articles/1997/fed-up-with-filming-br-chinatown-resists

6. http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/Anthro/Anth206/jean_baudrillard_and_hyperrealit.htm



Hester Street: Take 10

Sound is an essential characteristic of a street. As a generation geared towards a more visual-based perception and understanding, we tend to forget to use our ears and take in the sounds that surround us. Since Hester Street is situated within Chinatown, it takes along the somewhat notorious reputation of a “noisy” neighborhood. When walking on Hester, the sonic atmosphere is immediate, becoming less and less possible to ignore. For 38 seconds, I recorded my walk through Hester Street Playground at around 11:45AM. Not focusing on the visual the camera is directed towards the ground following my footsteps as I maneuvered my way along…
Any sidewalk in New York City is immediately associated for being an incredibly noisy, hectic, and boisterous space. To stray away from that idea, I was drawn to Hester Street Playground to observe the sounds from an ordinary sidewalk. Within those seconds, I passed by a group of Asian males standing around discussing. I passed by a group of women sitting around a table playing cards. Clare Corbould recalls on the experience of blacks living in Harlem in her work,  Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem, who oriented themselves around sound rather than sight (1). Black uptowners found in their prejudices a space in which to define themselves individually and collectively. (1) This is somewhat reflective in the Hester Street patrons gathered along the playgrounds outskirts — as their way to claim that space as their own. Straying away from the idea of the noisy busy sidewalk, people are compelled to meet with fellow residents, friends, and family members as a means of socializing with one another. Corbould recalls “Making noise was a way to build community through collective action…”(1)  Noise indicates the collective character, “a noise compared to the happiness bubbling in their hearts.” (1) While passing by, (although I didn’t understand the language) I heard the passion resonating in the voices and the happiness structured in each and every word. This joyful feeling reverberated in the ascending laughter that consumed the group of women sitting at the table engaging in a game of cards. Hester Street-goers collectively gather to act against the unfamiliarity and strangeness associated with living in fast-paced New York City. Through sound, these individuals assert the sense of community that is reflective of Hester Street and its inhabitants.  It exhibits the way in which people are somewhat maneuvering through New York City and sharing their lived experiences with one another. Corbould notes on the pleasure that sound, noise and music brought to the residents of Harlem. (1) As I have recalled in a previous post, the historic Hester Street Fair,  home to New York City’s largest and oldest pushcart markets, sells quality goods and food but also create a space that reflects the dynamic energy of the Lower East Side.Here is a video of what is called the Hester Street Fair Rap…
You can obviously observe the great enthusiasm in the children’s body movements, hand gestures, and facial movements. However, you can sense the enthusiasm even more when you close your eyes and just listen. You can picture in your head their smiles, laughter as the rap advertises their space in the market. The noise was created as a means to express their happiness inside (1); to express their yearning as to why people should come see Hester Street Fair and take in all the eagerness and fervor of the Hester Street marketeers.Not only can sound be traced to the modern everyday noise of street speaking and hanging out on Hester but it is also reflected in the music that is demonstrative of Hester’s history. The Hester Street Troupe, comprised of Jay Sweifach on keyboards, Alan Sweifach on clarinet, and Jim Bazewicz on drums) is a musical group specializing in Klezmer  and Jewish entertainment for over thirty years.Their extraordinary repertoire consists of Klezmer, a style where the clarinet imitates human emotions like laughing and crying, songs from the Yiddish Vaudeville and Second Avenue Theatres, as well as classic older and more contemporary Jewish Melodies.  Their recordings combine a celebration of songs from the Yiddish Vaudeville and the Lower East Side, traditional Klezmer medleys, traditions of the Jewish experience, as well as a peek at a slice of life in the old Jewish community called the Shtetl. You will hear horse hooves clopping on cobblestone as street vendors hawk their wares and the Klezmer musicians frolic in the street.The Troupe has performed throughout the Northeast as well as in in Florida, playing to standing-room-only audiences. This much sought after group combines a special brand of shtick with popular Jewish songs for an explosive evening of entertainment. (2) The mere existence of such a group reflects the historical value of living on Hester in the Lower East Side (even going as far as naming themselves after the street). Their music, performed throughout the country, helps us experience and immerse ourselves in the historic time period or cultural experiences associated with the space of Hester. The sounds demonstrates the pride that encompasses being Jewish and tracing your roots back to the significant space. As sounds unified blacks living in Harlem, music unites the Jews that once resided on the Lower East Side and the history that serves to the environment.The experiences we take in through use of our senses make our lives meaningful. Hearing, a basic fundamental aspect of life, has a great effect on our personal character. Music is the highest of the arts for the same reasons that sounds are more powerful and take precedence over visual images. It also speaks to the ability of sound to learn the nuances and subtleties of emotions as well as to convey moods and feeling. The use of sound through which self-expression is used to connect to others. Hearing is the foundation on which significant social values are manifested. It is crucial and evident for society to preserve the integrity of the sounds that have surrounded us throughout history as well as in our everyday like and to perpetuate and put forward such examples found in spoken word and music.Works Cited1. Corbould, Clare “Streets , Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem.” Journal of Social History – Volume 40, Number 4, Summer 2007, pp. 859-8942. Hester Street Troupe. “Who Are We.”< http://www.hesterstreettroupe.com/Who%20We%20Are.htm>Videoshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwlFJ8rYSXU



Hester Street: Take 11

True Crime: New York City Cover Shot

As Kiri Miller notes in her work, Grove Street Grimm: Grand Theft Auto and Digital Folklore, Grand Theft Auto’s San Andreas’ narrative is driven by CJ’s personal circumstances, both material and emotional. (5) True Crime: New York City‘s narrative is driven by Marcus Reed’s personal circumstances in urban New York City. It is an urban life based action-adventure video game published and developed by Activision and Luxoflux respectively. (3)  The plot of the game is somewhat extensive. Disgruntled thugs put a hit on Marcus and his father, Isaish, attempting to kill them both and take over the empire. However, they survive and wanting to seek revenge, the Reed family overtake their enemy’s hideout and slaughter everyone in sight. After his father is arrested five years later, Marcus takes control of his father’s empire. During this, he is betrayed by a friend, almost killed, but survives through the help of NYPD detective Terry Higgins. Higgins, a friend of Reed’s father offers to help erase Reed’s criminal past. Reed becomes a member of the Organized Crime Division in the New York Police Department working under Higgins as a mentor. (1) One of Higgins’ contacts calls and asks for a meeting but at the contact point, a bomb goes off with Higgins inside. Reed is contacted by FBI agent Whitting, who informs him that one of his detectives is a mole and is probably linked to Higgins’ death. Whitting knows the mole is connected to four major crime families in the city and asks him to investigate these families to try to find the mole. (3)  Each case involves stereotypical thugs and mob bosses. You get a tip about a bad guy, locate that bad guy, kill of all of his entourage, and then interrogate him until he tells you about another bad guy that you have to bust. You then repeat the same thing all over again in another area of the city. (1) You try to  find out exactly what happened to Higgins and throughout that journey, bust up drug rings, engage in illegal drag racing and fight clubs, and much more. An IGN reviewer recalls, “One of the best parts of True Crime: New York City is how well your general duties as a cop are tied into the game, working very well alongside your own personal investigations. You’ll be given orders to look into a couple major underground criminal activities, like illegal street racing or fight arenas. For each one of these, you’ll need to get yourself introduced into the scene and then work through a series of fights or races. While these generally work as expected, and are reasonable fun in their own right, the way that your boss presents them to you and commends you on your constant progress through them makes it feel like you’re actually doing your job as a policeman, rather than just busting random street crimes because they’re there. It helps tie in your general job duties really well in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or forced. ” (2)
True Crime: New York City is a nonlinear style game play presents players with challenges that can be completed in a number of different sequences. Each player sees only some of the challenges possible, and the same challenges may be played in a different order. (5) This type of game allos great player freedom, permuting multiple sequences to finish the game, a choice between paths to victory, or optional side-journeys or subplots. You have the option to fight crime and be a good cop or a bad cop by kill innocent people and fellow officers, damaging city property, accepting bribes, and causing chaos in general. The game actually allows for multiple diverse endings given the fact it allows the player to proceed down a different mission path when they fail or have the option of doing an informant mission to get back on track with the main storyline. (3) The flexible narrative structure of True Crime: New York City mirrors the one in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The player is not given a a strict order for completion of the missions that will advance the story, choosing among several different goal-oriented tasks to further Reed’s status in the police department. (6)
True Crime: New York City is a game based around an open city and the freedom that exists within the city. The game recreates the entirety of Manhattan and features a very accurate depiction of Manhattan and its many landmarks. Many buildings including restaurants, hotels, apartment buildings, shops, car dealers, dojos, record stores, etc. are accessible to the player besides just the locations related to the game’s story. Landmarks that are observed include the Empire State Building, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the United Nations headquarters, Washington Square Park, Times Square, the TKTS booth, American Museum of Natural History, Grand Central Station, and more. Even the World Trade Center site is depicted in its 2005 condition; however it is cleaned up and closed off from the player. Players can also purchase food (which increases health) from New York City’s many hot dog stands. (3) When observing some of the gameplay, you can see the streets of New York in very lugubrious settings. Reed takes you on the streets of Lower East Side including that of Hester Street. It was really interesting to see how you could observe Reed driving throughout the various streets that surrounds Hester including Canal, Mulberry, Baxter, Grand, Centre, Allen, Chrystie, Eldridge, Mott, etc. Al; the streets are usually desolate, only filled with the sounds and sights of ongoing traffic. However, you don’t really catch the essence of the busy, non stop hustle of the city since crowds of pedestrians are rarely shown. In this video, at the 8:06 mark, you can see Reed quickly passing by Hester Street as he makes his way around the Lower East Side…
The little details including the banners on top of the streets in Chinatown gives the video game a very real setting in terms of physical geography. In the next video, the screen turns to the city map clicking an area labeled as the Fight Arena. Marcus Reed is then seen on Hester Street by Allen going into an unmarked building. The voice over says “You on a roll or something. Fine, get your a** in here. You all said Shay, give us an urban setting. Behold the back alleys of s*** central. Now stop looking and go kick some a**!” Marcus continues to fight various street fighters ultimately becoming the champion and winning $2,000 dollars.
Such side missions allow Reed to earn some money while continuing to figure out the details of Higgins murder. It was interesting to see how Hester Street was depicted which in this case was an area of an illegal fight arena in which Marcus had to fend off street warriors in a very violent tirade. It makes you question what really happens behind closed doors in the long hours of the night. The creators of True Crime: New York City attempt to depict the mysterious crime-ridden setting of New York while following Reed’s story to find the truth. Similar to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, “These missions are framed by ‘cut-scenes’—film like segments where the player cannot control the avatar’s movements—that allow for the presentation of extended dialogue, narrative exposition, and character development. But also opt to set the missions aside and simply wander through the impressive expanses of the game world.” (6) However, in True Crime: New York City, you assume to be working for the NYPD compared to San Andreas in which CJ’s character is working against the police force, engaging in various crimes across the city. The solo avatar is also similar to San Andreas’ CJ in that the gamer can only be Marcus Reed, “a particular young black man who finds himself in a particularly trying situation….this game world and its narratives revolve around CJ’s race, gender, acquired abilities, family background, and other personal circumstances” Its folkloristic-based approach reflects the game as a “story collection, a performance context, a virtual museum of vernacular culture, and a pop culture artifact whose double-voiced aesthetic has given rise to diverse interpretive communities.” (6) As Miller’s colleague David Kaminsky, compares the Grand Theft Auto game to the Grimm tales, it proves to be a similar situation for True Crime: New York City. He states, “Violent and engaging stories for children that teach them modern myths and how to understand and fear the world.” (6) Recalling Miller’s work, The game’s ambiguous implications mirror the themes of freedom and constraint explored in the game world. In theory, players can do whatever they want in New York, especially in the Lower East Side but in practice Marcus constantly experiences pressure from different quarters. The player’s tasks typically involve using limited resources in creative ways in order to respond to those pressures—the “ghetto mentality” of welding scrap materials into something useful, as that bricoleur MArcus intended to do. Players engage in a similarly satisfying creative endeavor when they work at identifying and interpreting the scraps of political and pop-culture references that have been cobbled together to build the setting of New York City. (6)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: