NY activist brings one-woman show to Westborough
By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Judith Sloan, author, actress, college professor and human rights activist, recently took on the persona of immigrants and refugees from Queens, N.Y., in a one-woman multimedia show sponsored by the Westborough Friends of Facing History and Ourselves (FFH). She performed the show recently at Westborough High School.
Sloan and her husband Warren Lehrer co-authored ‘Crossing the Blvd,’ painting portraits of people in their NYC neighborhood, the most ethnically diverse location in the United States. Queens is home to both Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports which serve as the new gateway for “the tired, the poor, those yearning to be free,” replacing Ellis Island. The couple listened to immigrants, capturing both their words and pictures for the book. Their stories of escapes from war-torn countries, poverty, prisons, crossing borders and oceans, and then finding a way to survive in a new country while trying to preserve some of their own cultures are told from different perspectives.
The FFH group felt that the presentation was particularly relevant to Westborough, which is home to a very diverse population.
“We wanted to touch on another aspect of facing history,” said organizer Stefanie Bradie. “After our successful program about the Holocaust last year, we wanted a program about diversity, multiculturalism, immigration and acceptance.”
FFH, headquartered in Brookline, learned about Sloan’s book and her cross-media project. Sondra Bloch, on the FFH Board of Directors, said, “We hope to raise more money, enlighten people and inspire them.”
Sloan started her project because she was asked to teach journaling by a school administrator.
“The kids would interview their neighbors and bring back stories,” she said.
From that she developed the idea of capturing the relationships and interactions of the ethnically diverse immigrants who were settling in the lower- and middle-class neighborhoods of Queens.
Queens Boulevard is over 7 miles in length and at its widest, covers 16 traffic lanes, connecting Midtown Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge to Jamaica. Sloan pointed out that it is known as the “Boulevard of Death” and is extremely difficult to cross. Cars crash; people are killed. She and her husband collected many of their stories along this busy street. Her slides pictured many of the small businesses run by refugees, emphasizing the incredible diversity that survives in this small area of New York. The audio portion highlighted the cacophony of sounds, languages, music, drums and accents that exist in the city.
The second part of the book’s title is ‘Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America.” Over 100 different languages are spoken in this Long Island city which listed 167 nationalities in the 2000 census. While the parents and grandparents want to maintain some of their culture and speak their native language, their children tend to want to become more American, causing conflict.
Sloan’s presentation profiled some of the 79 residents from the book. From joyful music to stories about the lives they left behind, Sloan explored the struggles, the successes and the frustrations of life in a new environment.
At the end of the show, Sloan, who was dressed in black, threw on a bright red shawl flecked with gold threads, which she flung around to emphasize the characters she portrayed. Her accent changed with each vignette. Sloan managed to capture the essence of these immigrants’ lives.
“We want to teach our kids to be respectful and aware. As a community, we should be learning that all the time. This kind of program helps make those points,” Bradie said.
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