New York Exhibit Uses Innovative Technology to Create Soundscape of Immigrant Stories

As a first-generation American, I’d always found it difficult to imagine my parents’ journey from their homeland of the Philippines to their new home: America.

Over the years, they chose not to mention it very often, much less discuss their memories at length. But I wondered what situations caused them to leave their country behind, and what fears and dreams came with them to the United States. What was it like to travel so far away from your loved ones?

What were their first impressions upon arriving in New York City? How did they find jobs or make friends? Even now, if I ask about those times, my father will answer, “That’s old news, you have to keep thinking about what’s next, not how hard it was in the beginning.”

I thought of my father on a recent rainy morning, when I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan to check out a new interactive exhibit called Voices of Liberty.

Looking out over New York harbor at the Statue of Liberty, with headphones and an iPod provided by the museum, I listened to a poignant soundscape of voices, first person accounts from immigrants coming to America for the first time. There were celebrities and common folks, accents from Poland, Egypt, Rwanda, Germany and elsewhere. Many were refugees, forced by political or economic circumstances in their own nations to seek a new life in the States.

In their testimonies I discovered a deeper understanding of the pain of leaving home and the hardship and excitement of starting over in a strange place. Perhaps I felt my parents’ own hidden feelings and stories resonate in those voices.

Voices of Liberty is part of the museum’s Keeping History Center, which uses digital interactive technology that not only encourages visitors to explore the center’s collections in new ways, but to also add their personal stories and become custodians of their own immigrant history.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is located at Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place in New York City and you can find out more about them at http://www.mjhnyc.org or by calling 1.646.437.4200.

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