Immigrants in New York – A house tells about its 7000 inhabitants – Culture


How did immigrants affect New York City? A New York museum does not only ask itself this question in relation to times long past. That is why the Tenement is expanding its exhibition – also online.

the essentials in brief

  • The Tenement Museum tells the story of immigrants who lived in New York City between 1863 and 1935.
  • The tenement now also wants to document recent immigrant stories such as B. the stories of three families who lived here between 1950 and 1980.
  • In order to show which immigrants shape the country today, the Tenement has started the online project “Your Story / Our Story”. Current migration stories are collected in it.

A museum tells of then and now

“You passed all health tests at the reception center on Ellis Island and are now going ashore in Manhattan. Where are you going? », The question comes from the tour guide, who met her group in front of a typical old New York apartment building called Tenement.

The answer is obvious: to where people you know live – or you just go out and look for shelter where it feels familiar.

Many people fled hunger and poverty

Almost 7,000 migrants – Germans, Italians, Irish, Jews – more or less ended up in this way in the tenement in the Lower East Side, as historians of the museum have researched. In the house where they all lived for a while between 1863 and 1935, their life and migration stories are told today.

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If you want to go to the Tenement Museum, you have to book a tour. For example “Irish Outsiders”. The focus is on a young woman who emigrated to Ireland around 1850 because of the great hunger crisis (potato rot). Like so many others, she must have hoped for new luck in America.


The Tenement Museum is located on the upper floor of an apartment building on Orchard Street.

Tenement / Keiko Niwa

World and neighborhood history in the kitchen

The tour starts in the back yard, near the toilets and the only water connection in the house. A luxury back then!

Then it goes up four floors. In a small kitchen the guide wants to know from her 15 tour guests: “You have three children, a hot kitchen stove and have to fetch water in the yard. What do you do?”

It becomes clear: In a foreign country you have to rely on friends – or at least on good neighbors. All these stairs, several times a day, with heavy buckets of water: The living conditions at that time can be understood in the Tenement Museum.

The tour guide tells of the quarter where the clothing industry was traditionally located. It repeatedly embeds the events historically, shows excerpts from official documents and newspapers and explains the conclusions that historians have drawn from them.

Who is shaping the country today?

The tenement now also wants to document recent immigrant stories. The new part of the museum – or better: the new apartment – is on the same street, three houses down. Opening is on November 1st.

It tells the stories of three families who lived here between the 1950s and 1980s. One family were Holocaust survivors, one was from Puerto Rico and one was from Hong Kong.

The tenement is expanding – also on the internet

The exhibitions will be different from the existing ones, says the person in charge, Annie Polland. Some of the people whose stories are told here are still alive: “We can rely on a lot more data. Not least in photos and stories. “

The new part of the museum also has to make do with less space. The three immigration stories are told in an apartment, which is not least due to the horrific real estate prices in New York City, says Polland.

In order to get even closer to the present and also to show which immigrants shape the country today, the Tenement has also expanded on the Internet.

In the online project “Your Story / Our Story”, migration stories are collected far beyond the borders of New York City. With the aim of giving the abstract topic of migration a concrete face. Or as Polland puts it: “To show who will help shape the country in the future.”

Broadcast: Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Current Culture, October 31, 2017, 5:02 p.m.

Immigrant stories online

Immigrant stories online

Tenement / Keiko Niwa

The Tenement Museum has the online project «Your Story/Our Story» brought to life. It documents migration stories of people around the world.

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