Our Home: An East Boston Community Archiving Project

Our Home: An Eastie Community Archiving Project, a collaboration between East Boston residents, the ICA, Artist Anthony Romero, Northeastern’s NULawLab, and area nonprofits, aims to activate East Boston’s activist past by hosting history capturing and storytelling events for residents and making the material available for research as part of Northeastern University’s University Archives and Special Collections.

Early history of East Boston:

Long a fishing site for the native peoples of the area, the five islands that make up East Boston (Bird, Noddle’s, Apple, Governor’s, and Hog) were first settled by Europeans in 1633.  After a notable shipbuilding period in the 1800s, the area later welcomed wave after wave of immigrants to the immigration station located in the neighborhood, often referred to as Boston’s “Ellis Island.” Many recent arrivals stayed and made their homes in the neighborhood– mingling with already established groups with different languages, religions and cultures.  Because immigration and integration are challenging processes, East Boston has developed a longstanding tradition of welcoming and supporting recent immigrants. This history started in the 1880s with the establishment of settlement houses, the predecessors of today’s East Boston Social Centers.   More on East Boston Immigration: https://globalboston.bc.edu/index.php/home/immigrant-places/east-boston/ 

History of Activism in East Boston:

Along with the history of welcoming newcomers, East Boston also has a long history of standing up for the rights of its residents.  When “Jeffery Field” opened in 1923, no one could have imagined that the subsequently named Logan International Airport would serve 40 Million passengers in 2018.  Along the way, Olmstead-designed parks, historic Synagogue and churches, and entire neighborhoods have been bulldozed to make room for runways and airport-related buildings and parking lots.  The proximity to Logan has also brought fuel tank farms, cargo/transportation businesses, to dot and highways to criss-cross the historically working-class neighborhood. East Boston activists have worked for clean air and water, lobbied for green space, bike paths and parks in the shadow of the ever-expanding airport and the Commonwealth’s ever-growing transportation needs. The neighborhood constantly fights, and occasionally wins battles between what the state needs and the neighborhood wants.  

Project Goals:

Goal 1: History Capture Our Home hopes to bring together the various pieces of this historical puzzle and members of the community that hold this history into conversation.  The goal is to provide a space and time for folks busy with their lives and families and volunteer work to share the knowledge of the community they hold with others in the neighborhood.  Additionally, a goal is to capture these objects and stories and make them available publicly for community understanding as part of the growing body of East Boston history collections housed and curated in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections. Goal 2: ICA/Romero Project integration: These stories and objects will be featured in Anthony Romero’s contribution to the ICA’s upcoming exhibition “When Home Won’t Let You Stay,” which focuses on the subject of contemporary migration, immigration, and the displacement of peoples across the world.  This inclusion is particularly profound as the ICA’s waterfront view features the Jeffries Point neighborhood of East Boston; the historic buildings recently almost completely obscured by newly-built apartment buildings along the waterfront. Goal 3: NULawLab collaboration Through Northeastern Law School Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design and Legal Empowerment, a six week legal seminar starting June 10th, students and East Boston residents will co-create a series of legal empowerment tools that respond to the following question:  What might we learn from the rich history of successful East Boston activism that can be deployed to empower current residents to assert their legal rights in proactive defense against displacement by redevelopment? Students will spend  the first third of the class with researching organizing and activism strategies through the East Boston-related archives in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.  They will distill those learnings into discrete actionable takeaways that can be applied to East Boston’s current housing and displacement crisis. They will research legal rights and strategies for the neighborhood, and distill these learnings into a series of tools/toolkits/materials/tangible things that manifest the East Boston approach in response. The final third of the seminar will focus on testing those ideas/tangible things with East Boston organizers, activists, and residents, and then presenting the final product as a tool to distributed this fall as part of Anthony’s exhibit at the ICA/Watershed.   When Home Won’t Let You Stay ICA original conception– Anthony Romero This project uses The Trial by Franz Kafka, a surreal tale of judicial bewilderment, confusion, and criminalization, as a starting point for a series of community gatherings and performance events that offer participants and audiences the opportunity to think through the many impacts of immigration law and policy. The story at the heart of The Trial is of a nameless character who wakes one morning to discover that they are being detained for an unspecified crime, not unlike the many asylum seekers who, upon crossing the border, find themselves caught in a web of legal codes and bureaucratic procedures from which they are unable to detangle themselves. By partnering the enactment of this tale, adapted to reflect the particularities of migrating to the U.S., with a series of community gatherings that give East Boston residents a platform for speaking about their own immigrant experiences, we create an opportunity to rethink how immigrant law and policy can and should work. A series of community engagement events are being developed in collaboration with the NuLawLab, an interdisciplinary innovation laboratory working to imagine, design, test, and implement pioneering approaches to legal empowerment and in dialogue with East Boston residents. In the coming months, we will be holding a small number of community listening events and meals. At these events, residents will have the opportunity to share their experiences and to request a legal empowerment workshop. For example, residents struggling with housing issues may share their experiences at a listening event and request a know-your-rights and legal information workshop related to housing rights and law. We will do our best to accommodate needs through these legal empowerment workshops. About the Exhibition When Home Won’t Let You Stay focuses on the subject of contemporary migration, immigration, and the displacement of peoples. This group exhibition features artists who examine how the forces of migration radically destabilize ideas of home, place, transit, and belonging in the 21st century. Artists include Kader Attia, Yto Barrada, Tania Bruguera, Rineke Dijkstra, Guillermo Galindo, Mona Hatoum, Isaac Julien, Hayv Kahraman, Reena Saini Kallat, Richard Misrach, Richard Mosse, Carlos Motta, Aliza Nisenbaum, Camilo Ontiveros, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Adrian Piper, Anthony Romero, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Xaviera Simmons, and Do Ho Suh.