Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Two East Boston Seniors Meet Twenty East Boston Kids

Here at Grub Street we have been truly impressed with all the unexpected journeys that the Memoir Project has taken since it began in 2006. Last Wednesday, the Boston Museum hosted an event at the East Boston Public Library where two seniors read their essays from My Legacy Is Simply This. The audience was twenty rowdy students from Umana Middle School Academy.

It was not a traditional reading. The seniors, Ann Papapietro and Alice Christopher, punctuated each paragraph of their essays with additional unwritten thoughts and comments, and the students responded with questions and comments of their own. The result was a dialogue on the past and present of East Boston - from the days before the tunnel when a ferry cost a single cent, to the food carts along Porter Street, and even a short talk about the importance of using cloth napkins and tablecloths.

After Mrs. Christopher read from her essay the focus changed from history to heritage. Her essay ‘A Nice American Girl’ is about being the youngest daughter of a large Italian family. And Mrs. Christopher wasn’t shy about how hard it was to be the only one in her family born in America, about having to translate for her parents, about never learning Italian, and about her childhood dislike of traditional Italian food. The same issues were presented to the students: Did they have parents and siblings who were born in another country? Did they ever have to translate for their parents? And for each question, more then half the students raised their hands.

Through the skill of the humanities teachers at Umana Middle School Academy and the foresight of the Boston Museum, several connections were made that day in the basement of the East Boston Public Library. The seniors were able to share the personal stories of their lives, but also add their perspective to East Boston history and the challenges of being an American immigrant. And in that quiet, fidgety way twenty middle school students learned something they didn’t know before- even if it was just that going to the movies used to cost ten cents.

-Whitney Ochoa

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