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In yesterday’s The New York Times, David Gonzales published a meditation on the sense of loss a community “disappeared” can experience. Here in the Lower East Side, community is a word strung together by many ties: those of traditions inherited from generations and homes past; of cultures both preserved and blended; ties born of a sense of belonging – to a market, a block, a playground. All of these knit together to form both our past and future, creating a rich and vibrant fabric of life unique to the Lower East Side.
The many changes our neighborhood has endured have certainly shaped these connections and our feelings of belonging. For some, there is a tinge of mourning for the loss of landmarks that, in their stories of the old neighborhood, have as much personality as any human characters. Others feel the change in atmosphere like a shift in seasons; the neighborhood’s remaining constant is that it never stays the same.
But that’s what we love about our Lower East Side. You can grab ahold of the ties within the community and walk back through the past just by talking with a neighbor, taking a stroll, or sitting in on a performance, gathering or party.
Ofelia R. remembers getting married at 127 Rivington Street in 1952. Kay L. recalls the silent, old beauty of the Williamsburg Bridge looming above the home where she grew up in 1969.
Luis O. can still step in time with the memory of the Dominican songs he danced to on June nights on the East River sixty years ago.
Xui Li has been practicing Tai Chi and calligraphy in the LES for more than 40 years and loves to perform with other seniors here at 80 Pitt Street.
All of us want to see the empty lots in our neighborhood rebuilt. Whether we want homes or landmarks restored, a way of life preserved, or a sustainable future created, there can be no denying the need. Though there is much that needs rebuilding, now is the moment to focus on the ties that can’t be touched by demolition. The enduring ties remain to guide us on our forward path.
The community we see at Grand St. Settlement had persevered despite loss and change simply because the ties that connect those within it are so many and so varied. Through shared moon cakes, learned Bachata steps, celebrated holidays, and imparted lessons, the communal meals and storytimes we share have strengthen old ties while forging and multiplying new ties, too. The community is still here – and its strength has never left.
May is LES History Month, a time for the neighborhood to focus on exploring our past and shaping our future. At Grand St. Settlement, we couldn’t be happier to be a place where the past and the future are knitted together, threaded through the cultures and traditions that brought, and continue to bring, the Lower East Side together.
Check out David Gonzales’s article in The New York Times here.