On Tuesday, April 23, 2013, New York 1’s Amanda Farinacci previewed “Hispanic Staten Island: Culture & Identity,” a public forum, cultural celebration and artists’ reception celebrating the 10th annual NYC Immigrant Heritage Week. “Hispanic Staten Island” will be held at Wagner College on Wednesday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m.
The likelihood is growing that if you overhear a conversation on Staten Island, the talk will be in Spanish, as 2010 census figures showed a huge increase in the borough's Hispanic population. Now, a new exhibit in Wagner College is asking just what it means to be Latino and a Staten Islander. Borough reporter Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Anthony Gonzalez says he was one of just two Hispanic kids in his elementary school on Staten Island's South Shore. Raised by a Peruvian mother and a Puerto Rican-Italian father, the Wagner college freshman says his parents wanted him to blend in with the rest of his class. So instead of teaching him to speak Spanish, his mother asked him to teach her English.
"My mother wanted me to assimilate into the culture, into the 'American' culture, just because she wanted to be anchored in. And once that happened, as I grew up, you become more connected to your roots," Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez says his mother eventually taught him Spanish, which is worthwhile on a borough where now one of every six people is Hispanic. That is nearly 52 percent more than just 10 years ago.
Now an exhibit at Wagner College in Grymes Hill examines the impact of that increase. "Hispanic Staten Island: Culture and Identity" is a partnership between the college's history department and a Staten Island cultural arts group.
"What does it mean to be Hispanic in our borough? How is your identity expressed? Do you feel that your voice is heard as a Hispanic? Those kind of different questions," says Lori Weintrob, the chairwoman of the Wagner College history department.
Organizers say part of what they are trying to accomplish with the exhibit is to encourage Hispanics living on Staten Island to live out loud and take the culture they celebrate in their homes and make it more visible to the public.
"I think that's an important struggle communities I work with have, keeping their young kids who might have been born here connected to the stories, folk tales, music, dance of their ancestors. That gives them a sense of their identity and makes them feel like they're part of someplace important," says Christopher Mule of the Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island.
Wednesday night, Wagner College will host a public forum and cultural celebration of the work of island Hispanic artists. The exhibit will be on display until May 5.