Did you know June is Immigrant Heritage Month? As a community hub for one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City, we’re proud to join organizations around the country to partner with Immigrant Heritage Month to celebrate our own immigrant heritage, past, present and future.
Educational Alliance’s Manny Cantor Center has always been a home and refuge for immigrants: our namesake, Manny Cantor, immigrated from Poland to the United States in 1921 at the age of 16. Like many immigrants of the time, he came here with very little, and through the resources he found in his community and his own industriousness, he built a business from the ground up, raised a beautiful family, and eventually turned his attention to giving back to the community who gave him so much. Read more of our namesake’s story in our Meet MCC profile series post: Meet MCC: Meet Manny Cantor, the Founder of Our Immigrant Story.
Opened in 2014 in the newly renovated Educational Alliance building as one of its flagship community centers, Manny Cantor Center was born as “a living laboratory for the reimagined community center.” Educational Alliance first opened 127 years ago to serve the Lower East Side’s large Eastern European immigrant population. In addition to providing English classes, Educational Alliance offered a creative escape from cramped tenement life with theater, dance, and courses at Educational Alliance’s Art School. Today, Manny Cantor Center is a hub of culture and connection for a new generation of Lower East Siders, building on the legacy of programs like the EA Art School, which continues to this day at MCC, offering a whole new array of art courses. Last year, we had the opportunity to celebrate the life and work of one of Educational Alliance’s Art School’s most acclaimed artists, Chaim Gross through an exhibit of his work, Home Away From Home: Chaim Gross & 70 Years at Educational Alliance. Himself an immigrant, Gross arrived in the U.S in 1921 as a refugee and found his home in the Lower East Side, as so many of our members have. Read more about the exhibit in this blog post by one of our own current members, MCC Member Reflection: Home Away From Home.
In addition to the Art School, MCC houses a fitness center, two early childhood centers, a teen center, and a senior center among other programs. Many of our program participants continue to be immigrants or the children of immigrants, like Gene Eng, a devoted member and volunteer of our older adults community. Gene moved to New York from Hong Kong in 1957, and promptly served in the U.S. army in World War II which followed soon after. The story of Gene and his wife Lolita was recently featured in a new monthly New York Magazine comic profile series called the The Golden Door, which tells the stories of members of New York City’s immigrant community interviewed right here at MCC. Stayed tuned for upcoming profiles!
In response to the recent election, Manny Cantor Center launched Educational Alliance’s We The People initiative with the opening of a community mural of the same title by artists Otis Kriegel & Michael McDevitt, featuring the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” in five languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew and Arabic. The We the People Initiative, which was launched to combat bigotry and promote inclusiveness, continues with programming at MCC, including Upstander (bystander intervention) workshops, citizenship classes, ESOL classes, Know Your Rights workshops, community meditation and other resources for immigrant and all members of our community.
We the People community mural, on view 1/23-3/27
This month, we join Immigrant Heritage Month to declare that we are immigrants and we stand with immigrants–yesterday, today and tomorrow. We’ve told you our immigrant story. Share yours with us @MannyCantorNYC with the hashtag #IAmAnImmigrant or share your support with #IStandWithImmigrants in this month-long celebration of the diversity our community and country was built on.
Check out more ways to celebrate at iamanimmigrant.com and stayed tuned here for more We The People resources and events at MCC.