Growing up in an integrated N.Y. neighborhood
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Herb Feinzig’s parents came to the United States as children in 1901. They eventually met, married and settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Herb grew up. Here he talks about his neighborhood, his extended family and their apartment house full of relatives.
Feinzig: Brooklyn was a very well integrated neighborhood. We had black people, we had Christians and Jews and we all lived on the same street and got along very well. That experience played a very important role in my life. I had friends of different religions and races, and everybody ran around together. That experience has stayed with me throughout my life.
I am truly grateful for that experience. I am a representative of the American dream. I was a kid whose family was immigrants. I grew up in a lower middle class family in a wonderful neighborhood.
We all lived together in the same apartment house. Each of the floors of the house was filled with relatives. The third floor had my aunt and uncle and their five children. The second floor had my aunt and uncle and their two children. Their daughter, my cousin, was my baby sitter for as long as I can remember.
Gallacher: Describe a typical week in this house.
Feinzig: One of the things that I will always remember is that when we would have a celebratory holiday like Passover the entire building would get together. My uncle on the top floor was a baker, and he would make all kinds of bread. I would go upstairs and the halls would be full of these breads and the smell of yeast and he would be up there baking. And somebody else would be cooking meats and somebody else would be cooking soup. The whole building would be full of these wonderful, wonderful aromas.
Gallacher: Where would you gather when everybody got together?
Feinzig: We would often gather in our house because we were on the first floor. So everybody would come downstairs and we would have tables set up in the house and in the backyard. We would even have tables out in the street. Our entire street would fill with people eating. We had people join us from all over the neighborhood, people from all different nationalities and religions, and the street would be full of food. And everybody would be sharing. There would be no concern or regard for where you were from or anything else.
But it wasn’t always as wonderful as I am painting it. There was a time when I was about 3 years old at the very start of World War II. We had a lot of Japanese people living on our street, and I can remember buses coming and collecting them all. I can remember them leaning out the windows of the buses and throwing their coins to all of us kids who had gathered to say goodbye. We kids didn’t know what was going on, but they were being taken away to internment camps. I can remember as though it was yesterday my neighbors throwing money out the windows.
I am sure that the war made an extreme difference at that point, but later on the Japanese Americans fought on our side. The 442nd regimental combat unit fought in Italy. It was the most decorated combat unit in the United States Army. So you can’t say that those people didn’t recognize themselves as Americans.
That is why I think that even now, living in Colorado as we do with a tremendous number of immigrants of Hispanic descent who want to be Americans just like you and me, we need to find a way to let them do that.
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