The Bintel Brief was an advice column that ran in the Jewish Daily Forward, a newspaper, founded by immigrant Jews just after the turn of the 20th century. The letters record the ordinary stories and dilemmas of newcomers making their way in a new land. While many of the details are grounded in the context of Jewish immigration in early 20th century New York, the letters raise universal questions about integration, assimilation, and acculturation, themes as timely now as they were when they were written. We are introduced to tensions between individuals and the communities in which they live, between religion and secularity, between parents and their native-born children, between husbands and wives, between immigrant Jews, their immigrant neighbors, and longer entrenched Americans. As readers, we are able to recognize the complexity behind the easy labels we use to describe people and recognize words like Americans, Jews, and immigrants can serve as introductions to people and groups, but the more you know, the more you recognize the limits of simple categorization. While the stories may be particular, and this is why we have provided this context, the dilemmas are familiar. They are echoed not only in the lives of immigrants from their time, but also by successive generations of immigrants to the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.
Sandra Cisneros often writes about working-class Latino life in America and has won many awards for her writing. She is best known for her book, “The House on Mango Street.” The themes in her writing include the meaning of home, belonging, crossing boundaries and cultural expectations of women. Her new memoir, “A House of my Own,” describes how her own life also reflects these themes. In this interview, she talks about being connected to Mexico and to the United States, and how she hopes to be an ambassador passing between the two cultures. Furthermore, she works to honor the women in her family while also being an independent woman and breaking some cultural traditions. Listen to hear more about how Sandra Cisneros has created a house of her own.
U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo is a storyteller, artist, musician, and a poet. Born in the U.S., to parents from what was then Rhodesia, U-Meleni spent much of her childhood in Zimbabwe and South Africa, before returning to the United States. She shares that journey in the following excerpt from WORLD channel’s Stories from the Stage.
Anzia Yezierska is one of the most important America writers that hardly anyone remembers. That wasn’t true in her lifetime. A film publicist crowned her the “sweatshop Cinderella.” Yezierka’s writing gained national attention, in fact, a movie based on her short story collection “Hungry Hearts” was made in 1922. In her writing about the world of Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York just before and after the turn of the 20th century, there is very little sentimentality, nor does she attempt to polish the edges, or cover her characters flaws. While some critics have found the stories overwrought, others appreciate the resolve and determination of her characters. The protagonists in her writing were often quite poor, eating scraps while living in crowded tenements owned by greedy landlords. They were hungry, not just metaphorically. Yezierska wants us to recognize the ambition, and sometimes the futility of the ambition, of her immigrant peers, searching for the America that they dreamt of as they fled anti-semitic pogroms in Russia.
This poem is the first in an occasional series of writing from immigrant students inspired by Jean-Michel Dissard’s I Learn America Project. It is from Karolen, a student at Bayonne High School in New Jersey, USA.
Food can reveal a lot about a culture. Most of us can identify certain dishes that are associated with holidays and rituals, from the Thanksgiving Turkey to Sabzi Polow Ba Mahi for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Often there are stories embedded in these dishes that are passed along each time we eat them, like memes.