Explore the Culture and History of Immigrants in NYC’s Lower East Side

Jun 1, 2021

Diversity is the calling card of New York City. No place in NYC better represents this concept than the neighborhood of the Lower East Side. The LES, as it is commonly referred to, has been the destination for much of the multicultural immigration for which NYC is famous. Five organizations in this neighborhood have joined together to provide the resources for educators to present their students with a comprehensive portrait of the immigrant experience in America.

Any conversation about immigration in America starts with Ellis Island, the site through which more than 12 million immigrants passed from 1892-1924. Today, the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration is a repository for the legacy of these Americans and their stories. The Ellis Island Expedition Series and Virtual Learning resources enable students to learn about the formation of the first federal immigration inspection station and the lives of the people who arrived there.

The Museum of Chinese in America is tasked with preserving and presenting the 200-year history, heritage and culture of American communities of Chinese descent, contributing to a more nuanced and layered American narrative. MOCA offers a wide array of virtual school programs for K–12 audiences, including their Customs & Traditions, Family Journeys and “I am Not a Virus” programs. You can dig deeper on their school resource page.

Located in the restored landmarked Eldridge Street Synagogue, built in 1887, the Museum at Eldridge Street focuses on the story of Jewish immigrant life in America. In fact, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was the very first great house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in the United States. With both virtual and in-person programs focusing on neighborhood history as well as Jewish traditions and art, students of all ages have a lot to learn.

The Tenement Museum may be the LES institution most synonymous with the immigrant experience. Through re-created homes and artifacts found in two tenement buildings on Orchard Street, the museum shares an experience that transports visitors back in time to explore the themes and stories of real-life families. Students can currently visit the museum virtually and in person.

No single organization has been more involved in the community of the LES than the Henry Street Settlement. Founded in the late 1800s by 26-year-old nurse Lillian Wald, the Henry Street Settlement has been assisting New Yorkers and LES residents with social services, arts and health care for almost 130 years. Educators looking for resources to tell a more nuanced story of the history of the United States need look no further than Henry Street.

The Lower East Side of Manhattan is a wonderful destination full of excellent food, engaging experiences and a beautiful community, but for educators, it also holds countless secrets of America’s immigrant story. We encourage you to work with these organizations to enhance your curriculum by unlocking these secrets today.

Information courtesy of NYC & Company.

Photo courtesy of Peter Aaron.