1. There are three million immigrants in New York City. When they left home, knowing it could be forever, they packed what they could not bear to leave behind: necessities, luxuries, memories. Here is a look at what some of them bought.
2. Match each of the texts with an object.
* Jessica Lane, 29 | Came from: Perth, Australia |
Came in: 2010 Picture: ___
Ms Lane outgrew her first pair after three months. Instead of saving them, as many in her profession do, she sold them for a bigger pair. She bought this pair on a trip to New York; she took them back to Perth, where they were left in a box. But now, after moving to New York for good, “I know they’ll be used again very soon,” she said. “They represent the turning point of my new life in New York, where so many opportunities lay ahead for me”, she wrote in an e-mail. She’s working at a Midtown bar and auditioning as much as she can. “Perhaps when they bite the dust, I will hold onto this pair,” she said.
When Ms Villegas graduated from college with dreams of becoming a journalist, her parents gave her this object. She and her brother used to compete to fins esoteric Spanish words, and this object was a treasure-trove. Ms Villegas brought it with her to New York on what was supposed to be a summer visit for an English class. She married an American and stayed. They now have three sons and she teaches adult literacy. Though she rarely uses it, she has carried it from apartment to apartment. Today, it sits on the bottom shelf in her basement of her home in Ridgewood, Queens, near her sons’ toys.
* Gendaris Tavera, 18 | Came from: Dominican Republic |
Came on: March 14, 2008 Picture: ___
When Ms Tavera was 15, her grandmother gave her a pink one to add to her growing collection. When she left home, it was the only one she brought. She has since repaired its paws and watched its colour fade. Sitting in her too-small basement apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Ms Tavera wonders if she’s still her grandmother’s favourite. She wonders why her grandmother’s chicken tastes better than anything in New York and if the New York winter will ever end. She takes solace in it, “I talk to it like it’s a real person,” she said. “When I feel sad, I cry into it.”
* Thein Myint, 50 | Came from: Yangon, Myanmar |
Came in: September, 2010 Picture: ___
Back home Mr. Myint was a doctor. He kept a photograph of his graduation ceremony on the wall as a testament to his years of hard work in school and his dedication to treating the sick. Today, he keeps his object in a manila folder inside a briefcase. He gave the photograph to his sister, who stayed behind. He is unable to work as a doctor in New York – the credentials do not transfer, and he speaks little English. Instead, he is applying to work at a catering company at Kennedy International Airport. “Rent is expensive,” Mr. Myint said. “I must do the job, any job.” But he misses medicine. He recently completed a course in phlebotomy so that he can draw blood from patients. “I want to treat people,” he said. He lives in Elmhurst Queens, with his wife and their four children. They don’t plan to ever return to Myanmar for fear of political persecution. He looks at his object and puts it aside. “I hope one day it’ll be useful,” he said.
* Albert Barawandika, 30 | Came from: Rwanda via Burundi |
Came in: 2006 Picture: ___
The wooden object is heavy – about two pounds. It was a strange thing to pack for the long journey to New York from Bujumbura, Burundi, but Mr. Barawandika liked it. He was born in Rwanda, but during the genocide, his family fled to Burundi, where his father came from. Months later, his mother and brother were killed in the violence that tore the region apart. But despite all the horrors, he still loved Burundi, which he considers his homeland. It hangs on the wall of his dorm room in the Bronx, where he is studying medicine. American friends ask him about it and he tells them stories of Africa. For him, it represents hope. “It’s durable, it’ll last forever,” he said. “I still have hope that someday things will change there.”
* Istvan Makky, 74 | Came from: Tejfalusziget, Hungary |
Came in: October, 1959 Picture: ___
This tool is smaller than a teaspoon. It’s used for making delicate lines and scooping ridges in the molds that are used to cast metal sculptures. An administrator handed it to Mr. Makky on his first day of metalworking school in 1953 in Communist Hungary, along with boots, six pairs of socks and underwear. He carried it when he slipped past the border guards with machine guns and through the barbed wire fence. He carried it as he looked for work in Austria. He carried it to Flushing, Queens, where he raised a family and to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where he built a foundry of his own. He does not let anyone else use it, not even his youngest son Bill who runs the company with him.
* Milton Ming, 33 | Came from: Kingston, Jamaica |
Came in: 1995 Picture: ___
It first belonged to Mr. Ming’s sister Maxine, but he couldn’t resist stealing it. “She would leave it careless and we would read it,” he said. When Maxine caught him, she took what was hers but gave him the exterior. He started writing short entries next to “names and addresses of females I used to mess with”. Decades later, Mr. Ming said “It’s memory lane.” He still flips through it, connecting again with his teenage self back in Jamaica. “I wish it was more detailed,” he said. Today he works as an electrician and lives in East Harlem. Five of Mr. Ming’s siblings are in New York, including Maxine, and they have dinner together every Thursday.
* Zongluan Ouyang, 27 | Came from: Fujian Province, China |
Came in: February, 2005 Picture: ___
Mr. Ouyang is a Methodist now, not a Buddhist. He goes by the name Roy. And he no longer wears this item that his parents gave him when he left his fishing village “to keep him safe”. Instead it sits in a cluttered desk drawer in the single room he rents in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It is one of the only things he still has from home. One recent afternoon, Mr. Ouyang looked at this object for the first time in ages. “It reminds me of my parents,” he said. They were not educated, and would recognise little of his life in Brooklyn, where Mr. Ouyang works as a wedding photographer. But he said, “They understand me.”
* Ruth Heiman, 87 | Came from: Nuremburg, Germany via England |
Came in: 1947 Picture: ___
Mrs. Heiman keeps it with others of its kind, but it means something very different from the other pieces. It was her mother’s, saved somehow from the concentration camp where her parents were killed. Mrs. Heiman said: “All my life until now I tried to push the past out of my mind. I live in the present. But there are certain things you don’t give up.” It’s just about all she has from her mother, who stayed in Germany when Mrs. Heiman, then 15 went to stay with relatives in England to escape the Nazis. She had no idea she would never see her parents again. Mrs. Heiman fell in love with an American soldier in England. They were married for 50 years. He died in 1997. Mrs. Heiman, who lives in Fresh Meadows, Queens, plans to give it to her granddaughter or daughter-in-law. Touching it as she spoke, she said “Without it some of my past would be lost.”
* Huan Zheng, 28 | Came from: Fujian Province, China |
Came in: February, 2000 Picture: ___
It was as exotic as anything Ms. Zheng and her friends in southeastern China had ever seen. It was a bright colour and marked with Italian words that “we didn’t know how to pronounce,” she said. “It was a fascinating glimpse of this other world.” As a girl, she took the lessons without enthusiasm. But she liked this object, mostly because none of her friends had one. As a teenager, she began pushing her parents to move to America. When Ms. Zheng was 17, her mother took her there, but soon moved back to China. In her new home, Ms. Zheng found comfort in this object. “For months, I couldn’t speak much. I’d play to fill the silent days,” she said. Today, she has a high-powered job at an international bank. At night, she plays the keyboard in her small Manhattan apartment. She rarely uses the object anymore, but keeps it just the same. “It’s one of the few things that hasn’t changed and has stayed with me all those years,” she said.
* Abdul Rafiq, 73 | Came from: Karachi, Pakistan |
Came in: 1992 Picture: ___
Everyone knows Mr. Rafiq as Babuji, and everyone knows Babuji for his paan. He makes the snack at his sidewalk stall in Midwood, a Brooklyn neighbourhood popular with Pakistanis. He wraps a betel-nut leaf around a signature mix of lime, cardamom, fennel seeds, shredded coconut and rose-petal preserves. He sells paan for $1 each, no extra charge for tobacco sprinkled on top. Mr. Rafiq has been making the same concoction since he was a teenager working a busy street in Karachi. And he has been using the same object to make it for nearly as long. Besides two bags of clothes, these objects were just about the only thing he took with him when he left Pakistan. “It’s what I know” he said, as he dribbled circles of rose-petal syrup acorss the leaf. He said he had never worked another job, a distinction that set him apart from his rival paan sellers further along Coney Island Avenue. He pointed to the objects and said, “These two are very dear to me.”
* Nancy Kahn, 32 | Came from: Dhaka, Bangladesh |
Came in: 1999 Picture: ___
When Ms. Kahn won the lottery visa and prepared to move to the US, her brother gave her this object, called a boti, to remind her of home. But it was a souvenir boti and not a real one. She regretted that she had not packed a real one. “I did think about working in a kitchen,” she said. “After I came I saw I had to do everything by hand. In Bangladesh, we always had a maid to help us.” She did finally buy a boti when she went back to visit, but she really doesn’t have the space to use it in her home, in the Throngs Neck section of the Bronx. Still she keeps her souvenir boti, though she often has to hide it from her two young children. “It makes me think of my family and my culture and my Bangladesh.”