Manhattan’s Lower East Side: The Big Onion

“There is a Mexican-American art installation in the windows of 97 Orchard Street across from the historic Americana of the Blue Moon Hotel and there is only one place I can be; the Lower East Side of Manhattan (LES).” In her article, Lisa St. John, a high school teacher and poet, explains that what she loves most about LES is peeling away it’s many layers of culture and history. She refers to the quarter as one big onion with endless opportunities to learn about the foreigners that have come to LES.

Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a lot to offer. Over a century ago the neighborhood was the center point for new immigrants from Europe, Russia, Puerto Rico, China and Ireland, as well as native New Yorkers looking for an eclectic lifestyle and community to settle in. Yet, with areas today in LES such as East Village, Alphabet City, Chinatown, Browery, Little Italy, and NoLIta, the district has become a popular place of interest to many New Yorkers and out-of-towners any day of the week.

Just choosing to visit the American Jewish Historical Society on Sixteenth Street, will awaken ones imported goods interests and ethnic taste buds. Some of the stops on route to the museum include the “best dumpling stop in town, a Chinese/Hispanic Grocery store, and merchants hawking their leather wares in Arabic.”
If you have the time it might be worth it to explore the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. In addition to seeing the important articles inside the building, the Tenement Museum is famous for giving guided tours. The museum works with local artists to guarantee the tours are vibrant and show respect for the history and modernizations of the neighborhood. The tours usually take an hour and are given both public and privately; tickets are $15 for adults $11 for students.

There are two kinds of tours to choose from. “The Piecing it Together tour focuses on the garment industry and the families affected by it. “Getting By” teaches about the development of social welfare, and the “Confino Living History” tour lets us experience the lives of a Sephardic-Jewish family from Kastoria via actors and hands-on activities.”

Whatever tour you pick be prepared to be treated “as a newly arrived immigrant by the family, as they explain the best ways to “Americanize”. While there is much to see and do in LES, there is perhaps nothing more valuable than understanding the foundation of the locale.

Source: Lisa St. John