Almost as soon as the campers arrived this morning, we headed back out to the street and braved the Tuesday morning Rush Hour, en route to the TenementMuseumon Manhattan’s Lower East Side! Our mission: to retrace the steps of Meena, the main character in Same Sun Here. In the book, Meena lives at the intersection of Orchard and Hester street, visits the Tenement Museum, and frequents the Seward Park Library. Though the weather reports promised thunderstorms today, the sky was clear and the sun was shining, much to our delight! At the Tenement Museum we were met by our tour guides, and by Neela Vaswani, one of the authors of Same Sun Here. Once we entered the museum, we were transported back through time to the 1860s. At that time, the Lower East Side was mostly populated by German immigrant families, and so we first explored an apartment that was home to a German family: the Gumparts! After her husband Julius abandoned the family, Rosario Gumpart raised her three daughters entirely on her own, working out of her home as a seamstress. We even got to pass around the type of iron she would have used to press clothes! Fast forward to the 1930s, and we were in the apartment of an Italian family, and listened to a recording of one of the daughters of the family recollecting what it was life was like in their home during the Great Depression.
By 12pm, we had returned to the year 2012, and headed off to SewardParkto have lunch. On the way, we stopped at the intersection of Orchard and Hester streets, where Neela pointed out the building she had envisioned Meena living in. After eating our lunch and playing a spirited game of freeze tag, we sat down and had a chat with Neela , who talked with us about how her experiences inspired different parts of the book and its format. Afterwards we headed over to the Seward Park Library, (another one of Meena’s favorite hangouts), where we met Hilary Schenker, the illustrator of Same Sun Here. She talked to us about how she came to collaborate with Neela Vaswani and what it was like to draw pictures as if she were 12- year-old Meena. A fascinating discussion!
Soon enough we were back on the train to Symphony Space, where we concluded the day with a presentation by Neela. She talked with us about “civil disobedience,” and the importance of peaceful protest in making change in the world. She showed us pictures of the mountain tops in Appalachia that have been destroyed by coal mining, which River talked about in his letters in Same Sun Here. We discussed the importance of “sense of place” and what home means to us, and finished off the session with a writing exercise in which we all wrote “I am” poems about our lives and experiences.
An excellent, edifying, and fun-filled day!