Starr Gazing
   


Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.
starr@canisius.edu

   

What about an EEE?

According to Google, ethnicity is a way of categorizing a person by means of a shared or presumed ancestry. I will use that definition in this column; it enables me to include different races, religions, etc. The word “ethnicity” also covers ancestry and places of origin while the word “ethnic” covers race, religion, national origin, etc.

Did you know that today there are at least 15 Thai/Vietnamese and at least 10 Indian restaurants in WNY? Were there any in 1950? WNYers have a more varied multicultural ethnic background that ever before. Those of you who came of age many decades ago recall that there were four or five major ethnic groups in Buffalo: Irish, Polish, Italian, German, and African American. The Jewish population was part of it all too, but they were often lumped in with the Germans.

Of course, a century earlier in the mid-1800s, a person might view the ethnicity of the young city of Buffalo and note that the residents were mainly of English and French origins and people whose ancestry was from the New England area. There were Native Americans here too. That pattern began to change as the Irish began to work on the Erie Canal.

By 1900, Buffalo’s ethnic pattern had changed significantly; it began to look pretty much what we can recall from our recollections of the WWII era. Many of us grew up understanding that the Irish were in South Buffalo, the Italians on the west side, the Polish on the east side, the African Americans downtown, and the Germans and Jewish population in the Humboldt area and in North Buffalo.

In the early 21st century, the pattern had again changed significantly. Today, when you look at all the summertime festivals celebrated by various ethnic groups around Buffalo or read about smaller, newer ethnic groups arriving here, it is astonishing.

Here is another way to appreciate the changing ethnicity and increasing diversity of our city: as mentioned earlier, look at the array of eating establishments. When I was young, Chin’s on Main Street, midtown Buffalo, was the only Chinese restaurant around. Today, Chinese restaurants are almost as numerous as Tim Hortons. There were no Japanese restaurants back then either and today there at least 10, and so forth.

This seems to be a good time for WNYers to discover more about ethnic composition, their ancestry, and all the different people who have come into WNY seeking freedom, economic opportunity, and a new home. All of us, especially our young people, would benefit. A good idea might be for an “Ethnic Educational Experience (EEE)” to be held on the Great Lawn at Canalside. I would envision a large exhibit where WNYers, especially young people, would learn about the various peoples who make up our area of WNY. A weekend in late May or early June would be ideal (after the Greek Hellenic Festival and before the Allentown Art Festival). A Friday is essential so that schools (social studies classes) could attend as a field day trip.

You get an idea of the potential extent of such an EEE by checking out the vast number of festivals held each year. While the major ones are well-known, smaller groups such as the Scottish, Macedonians, Lebanese, and Ukrainians also hold festivals. Other more recent immigrants and refugees, even if they have not yet established their own festivals, would have something to contribute.

To pursue my objective, that is, to encourage the founding of an “EEE,” I checked the internet for sources (including the International Institute) and made use of last year’s printed notices of the various festivals, as well as publications such as Kareba News where one can find information about appropriate ethnic social clubs, churches, and the like. My findings are by no means definitive!

There are leads or references to Serbians, Hispanics, Croatians, Lebanese, Indians, Native Americans, Scottish, Ukrainians, and Puerto Ricans. On Buffalo’s west side, all the way to Black Rock and Riverside, there are pockets of diversity, small settlements of Congolese, African, Egypt, Burmese, and Somalian. At the other end of Buffalo in Lackawanna, always a melting pot, there are a number of people from the Middle East.

How to proceed? Contact Robert Gioia, Chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) to obtain approval and to find out the best way to proceed with the EEE proposal. Perhaps establish a representative committee and appoint a director. The appropriate committee might include social studies teachers from various school districts, representatives from a few of the existing ethnic festival committees, some ethnic group leaders, and a few community and student leaders. It would also be important to involve the Buffalo History Museum.

Guidelines would have to be established early on. For example, the size of exhibit tents or booths (such as at the annual Taste of Buffalo on Delaware Avenue). Each group might work out of a 10x10 booth with a 10x3 foot table in front for some display items. Two reps of the ethnic group could operate each booth. No commercial activity would be permitted (e.g., no food– leave that to the festivals). Thus, the EEE would by no means replace or interfere with the successful ethnic festivals that already take place in our community.

What might take place at the ethnic booths? There would be many handouts about the ethnic group, slingers advertising the festivals, etc. Information sheets would indicate when the first ethnics arrived, where they settled, where they worked, who were the leaders, how they established themselves in professions, their music and food, and provide information about their schools, churches, community organizations, and social clubs. Photos of prominent leaders and photos of the homeland could be included as well. Maps showing locations of settlements and growth in Buffalo and WNY would be important.

As the work on the EEE ensues, various issues would arise. The committee would have to spend time working through those problems; for example, are some ethnic groups neglected or can we display this or that aspect of a culture? Funding would be an issue. Sponsors such as <www.ancestry.com>, might get involved. School districts would cover expenses for the field trips. Some exhibits would need to be interactive and geared toward kids.

The Great Lawn at Canalside would seem to be the ideal setting for an Ethnic Educational Experience.

If you are supportive or not, I’d welcome your thoughts.

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