Monday, November 17, 2008

Chatham Square

Yesterday I went to hear Jack Tchen speak at the Eldridge Street Synagogue His talk was
PORTS & PASSAGES WITH DR. JACK TCHEN Dr. Jack Tchen (New York University) lectures on the unique port culture created on the Bowery and Chatham Square in the mid-nineteenth century by the intermingling of Chinese, Irish and free black co- workers and neighbors. Tchen evokes the intertwined new foodways, music, slang, jokes, songs and stories created from different cultures living amongst each other

One of the key points that he made was that the confluence (h/t to Howie Silverstein) of ethnic and racial and social class groups that intermingled in lower Manhattan in the 1800's produced a cultural vibrancy that expressed itself in various forms. This is a part of American history that has often been overlooked. Tchen even references the syncopation of sounds of the docks as an ingredient to perhaps America's greatest musical form, jazz, with its unique staging area for improvisation
Those kind of opportunities become harder to come by as New York and other metropolitan areas become more and more homogenized as economics drives working and middle class people out of historic neighborhoods. My contention, along with those who help contribute to this blog, is that Knickerbocker Village was the kind of space that allowed for that co-mingling.
On a side note, it tickled me that some people at the lecture had never heard of Chatham Square! I coupled some historic Chatham Square images, many from the East Broadway Library branch coming from the nypl's digital collection. The music, since I was in a bossa nova "groove," is Quiet Nights (Corcovado) sung by Jackie and Roy

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