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New citizens sworn in on Constitution Day

Forty new American citizens were sworn in on the grounds of King Manor Museum last Friday, pledging their public oath and allegiance to this nation.
Remarks from immigration officials and oaths administered by Judge Sanket J. Bushar of the Eastern District of New York marked the long-awaited day for many, which coincided with Citizenship and Constitution Day.
The naturalization ceremony was part of a larger welcoming of 21,000 citizens in 355 ceremonies across the country last week, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Karen Jachero, one of Queens’ newest citizens from Ecuador, said the joyous day was six years in the making.
“I’m excited and ready for my new path as a citizen,” Jachero said, clutching her newly received naturalization documents. “For me it was very important to get U.S. citizenship so I can bring my mom from my country and, of course, to have the right to vote. I was waiting for this for so long.”
Following the ceremony, Jacero and others re-enacted what the founding fathers did 234 years ago: signing their name to the U.S. Constitution.
Bushar spoke to the significance of King Manor Museum, the home of Rufus King, serving as the host for the Friday morning event.
“Decades before the civil war, he spoke out against slavery when it was a radical thing to do,” said Bushar. “He was able to do so because our United States Constitution protects freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, rights that are forever shrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.”
The magistrate judge for the Eastern District of New York said his district, which serves over 8 million people, is one of the most diverse places in the country and possibly the world.
“More languages, customs, international cuisine and houses of worship are found here than anywhere else,” said Bushar, who added that his parents became citizens in the 1970’s, shortly after immigrating from India.
“They came in search of opportunities not available anywhere else,” he added. “They first landed in Queens and moved to LeFrak City with only a few dollars to their name and with big dreams. I am grateful that they took this first step that made it possible for me to become a judge.”
The swearing-in ceremony concluded with a final Pledge of Allegiance and the distribution of official documents.
“I am sure you will always hold close to your hearts your native lands and its people and its customs, as you should,” said Bushar. “You today have all made the decision on this day to embrace the United States of America as your country. The United States is richer for all the traditions and history you bring from your native lands.”

New York Transit Museum reopens in Brooklyn

After a nearly 18-month temporary closure for the pandemic, the New York Transit Museum finally reopened its doors to the public on August 14.
The museum first opened in 1976 to celebrate the country’s centennial, and has since become a favorite among locals and tourists who love its unique collection of vintage cars, photographs, and paraphernalia.
Located underground in Downtown Brooklyn’s old Court Street station at 99 Schermerhorn Street, the New York Transit Museum’s varied exhibits celebrate the stories of construction workers, transit workers, and commuters who created and sustained the city’s transportation system.
Museum director Concetta Bencivenga discussed the continued significance these stories hold during the pandemic, as well as the museum’s own experience over the past year and half.
“Not all museums are designed equally,” Bencivenga said during an interview. “We may not have the square footage of the Met or even the Brooklyn Museum, but more importantly we don’t have the same constituents.
“We have been part of our downtown Brooklyn neighborhood for 45 years, so for a lot of folks we’re the museum around the corner,” she added. “We are also a de facto children’s museum and are very well known in the international community.”
The museum stayed closed longer than many other museums in the city, yet as Bencivenga explained, this was a conscious decision.
“We wanted to make sure that everybody, our staff and visitors alike, had ample opportunity to get vaccinated,” Bencivenga said. “I am 100 percent fine with waiting as long as we did, because we did the right thing for our institution and the communities that we serve.”
Like any institution in New York City, the Transit Museum was fundamentally challenged by the pandemic. While museum leadership was successfully able to keep its entire staff intact for a full year, they finally had to lay off a number of employees earlier this year.
However, the pandemic has also proven just how vital and contemporary the Transit Museum’s work is.
“We have been very, very cognizant of the fact that we’re actually living in an historical experience,” Bencivenga explained. “So we actually have been collecting the mask verbiage, the signage, the social distance markers that have been produced by the MTA. We are basically saying everybody don’t throw anything out.
“The Transit Museum believes that you experience New York the way you do because of mass transit, you just don’t know it yet,” she added. “This is a historic experience for the entire world, but it certainly has a significant impact on mass transit.”
In addition to expanding the collection, the pandemic has also presented the museum with an opportunity to reflect on the larger history of mass transit in New York.
Some stories that museum staff tell on tours have found greater meaning, such as the Malbone Street Wreck of 1918 — the biggest subway accident in history — which was caused in part by a grieving motorman who had recently lost relatives to the Spanish flu.
Many of the other stories, however, are more familiar to the museum’s current visitors.
“We have the 20th anniversary of 9/11 coming up,” Bencivenga said, “and one of the most remarkable stories is that transit workers continued to show up. Whether it’s figuring out how to do it during the two world wars, the Spanish flu, the demise and resurgence of the system in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, or even Superstorm Sandy, transit workers are there. They are truly some of the most unsung heroes in the city of New York.”
The Transit Museum honored these dedicated employees during the city’s recent “Hometown Heroes” parade for essential workers, rolling out cars from its antique fleet to travel down the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan.
Yet on any given day, the museum is consistently dedicated to celebrating the way mass transit has shaped the ways New Yorkers work, play, and live.
“One of my favorite pictures in our collection is of Willets Point,” Bencivenga explained. “Queens is the way we know it because of the 7 train. That relationship between the people who live there and mass transit is so clear.”
The New York City Transit Museum is currently open Fridays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. All visitors, including members, must reserve tickets online in advance. Proof of vaccination and masks are also required for entry.
“If you’re interested in the artistic inspiration that people have derived from the subway or mass transit since its inception, we have a show for you,” Bencivenga said. “If you want to just come and sit in a car that maybe your parents or grandparents or you yourself used to commute or go to the World Fair in Queens or get to school, then we have a fleet for you.”

New exhibit at Queens Museum examines truth

In Strange But True, a new exhibit opening at the Queens Museum, artist Sydney Shen takes a look at the construction of truth and methodologies used to establish facts, focusing on photographic documentation practices and their power to shape culture norms.
In her work, the New York-based artist often creates sculptures and environments that commingle historical and contemporary symbols.
For her new solo exhibition, she explores various photographic techniques, juxtaposing early medical photographs with contemporary forms, like closed-circuit television, to cull a visual vocabulary focused on our voyeuristic sensibilities of “othered bodies.”
Literally a sideways world, Strange But True is an immersive installation that blurs the line between amusing and sinister, using the distance of metafiction in conjunction with optical manipulations to demonstrate that the study of evidence can never offer a complete and unbiased picture.
Strange But True was in part inspired by Shen’s interest in the philosopher Georges Bataille, whose writings on macabre and taboo subjects have long been a touchstone for her. With this exhibition, Shen contends with a friction that arises between her alignment with Bataille’s sensibilities, and the factual inaccuracies that his assertions can leverage and sustain, from his Western White male gaze.
Bataille was transfixed by photos of “lingchi,” an obsolete Chinese method of execution, also known as “death by a thousand cuts.” He heralded it as a rare depiction of a person in a spiritual state of rapturous suffering.
“Bataille’s flawed interpretation shaped assumptions still held today about Chinese culture, religion, and society,” said Shen. “This leads me to wonder how I can reconcile my relation to these photographs and Bataille, when my own racial selfhood is subject to — perhaps even influenced by — the gaze that the discourse around these photos has perpetuated?”
The role of photography in pathologizing bodies is also connected to the culture of world expositions, which dating back to the 19th century notoriously presented both official and unofficial exhibitions of marginalized bodies, such as foreign peoples, women, and the disabled, as curiosities to be consumed.
The two New York World’s Fairs of 1939-40 and 1964-65 were no exception: the fairgrounds were surrounded by plentiful adult amusements, including sideshows and peep shows, voyeuristic invitations that are inextricably linked to the mechanics and aesthetics of photographic technology.
Both fairs liberally deployed spectacle to promote an unrelenting optimism toward technological innovation.
The 1939-40 Fair celebrated the 100th anniversary of photography and featured an entire pavilion dedicated to the Eastman Kodak Co., where, among elaborate installations, fairgoers were first introduced to Kodachrome color film, billed as a surefire way to “capture life, just as you see it.”

Strange But True is organized by assistant curator Sophia Marisa Lucas and is on view April 28 through August 22.

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