CUNY's live taping of its first radio show on heritage and culture draws an eclectic mix of performers
"This is a show for the New America, where the majority is the minority," said Jesse Hardman when he introduced the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's first edition of "Where I'm From" at last weekend's live taping at Webster Hall.
"Where I'm From" is an onstage radio show, celebrating New York's diaspora populations in a sort of media mashup of live performance and spoken commentary.
Hardman opened the show by talking about his experience in a United Nations camp in the Sahara desert during the Arab Spring. He watched several cultures come together in celebration of the arts despite language barriers. The experience, among others he's encountered as a reporter, made him realize "the world is migrating like never before."
The show also featured commentary on some of New York's many untold culture stories. Photographer Annie Ling, who was recently featured in the New York Times, relayed the plight of the Chinese immigrant men who were living in tiny cubicles at the 81 Bowery tenement, sacrificing better living conditions to send home all the money they made working.
Their former residence, however, is currently on lockdown, meaning their lives have been upended and they are just one of New York's many "floating populations."
There are a lot of stories behind closed doors in this city, Ling explained, and "Where I'm From" aims to start pulling back the curtain on some of them.
The show was interspersed with lively musical performance. Isaac Katalay, who left the now Democratic Republic of the Congo seventeen years ago, and his band Lifelong Project performed and discussed their music, which reflects social and global justice according to band members.
The event also featured renowned immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, whose incredible story "lying [his] way in" was featured in the New York Times. Despite his undocumented status, Vargas has been extremely open about his story, writing fearlessly about the undocumented experience for many major publications.
Vargas calls himself the most privileged of the undocumented and is hoping to help people think more deeply about how we define what an "American" looks like and helping immigrants like himself "be treated as full humans." One thousand people get deported daily, he told the crowd, and people have many misconceptions about what it means to be an illegal immigrant, particularly with the focus on the Mexican-U.S. border when so many undocumented individuals are in fact European.
Vargas said a benefit of social media today is its capacity to test our empathy quotients and have a better understanding of the world beyond where we live and what we see everyday.
"The age of defining people as minorities is over," said Vargas, adding, half-jokingly, that he's "making a film on white people."
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