Life on the Lower East Side Revisited

Here’s another essay based on a photo by Jacob Riis from our New York Rising classes. These were written as part of their Life on the Lower East Side Project, in which students were asked to write a short essay from the viewpoint of someone in the photo.


by Joyce Mei

You are looking at an alley with laundry hanging in the background.  There is a man in the center of the picture whose back is turned to us and there are also laundry lines hanging above.  At the bottom of the picture on the right side, there is a mother who is hugging a baby and a little girl who is seated right next to them.

There is another lady who is facing us, too. On the left side, a little boy is looking at us and someone, whose back is facing us, is working on something.  Even though there are garbage bags next to all of them, the place looks like their home and it seems like there is a family living there.  It also looks like it is a very bad environment, especially for a baby.

My whole family is in this picture.  I am the little boy who is standing on the left side in this picture and I am nine years old. This place is our home.  We just rented it a few days ago because my parents couldn’t afford an apartment.  We are new immigrants.  My mother is hugging my little brother and he’s three months old.  My sister is sitting right next to my mother, my father is trying to organize and clean up the space, and my grandma is looking around.

All of us are exhausted and starving because my father used all of our money to rent this spot so we would have a place to sleep tonight.  He is still looking for a job.  Even though I am nine years old, I really want to earn money to help support my family.  I saw a good street corner out there where I can shine people’s shoes, so I will definitely work harder to achieve this job!

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Resources for Immigrants


*Please note that University Settlement is not endorsing any organization or service, nor are we responsible for the content of websites that we link to that are not controlled by University Settlement.

Following the recent executive orders on immigration, we have seen a rise in fear and anxiety from our immigrant clients. We have stepped up efforts to provide legal guidance, testified at City Council meetings, and reaffirmed that we are a welcoming and safe space for all.

Below, we’ve put together a list of resources for individuals and families that have questions or concerns about immigration rights and need additional assistance. Please share this with those in need. Together, we will make a difference in the lives of the people we work with throughout New York City.

Free, safe immigration legal help, including resources and information on DACA
To make an appointment: (800) 354-0365 or call 311 and say ActionNYC

Black Immigration Network
A Guide for Visiting Immigrant Detainees

City of New York Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
City Resources for New York City Immigrants in English, Español, Français, 中文, and العربية

Immigrant Defense Project
Know Your Rights Flyer when faced with immigration agents in English, Español, Français, 中文, and العربية

Legal Aid Society
Emergency Plan in Case of the Detention or Deportation of Family Members in English and Español, and 中文
Immigration Hotline: (844) 955-3425 – Fridays from 9:30am to 12:30pm EST

New York Immigration Coalition
Know Your Rights Community Toolkit in English, Español, and 中文

New York State Office for New Americans
Immigration Hotline: (800) 566-7636 – Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 12:00pm EST

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Online Detainee Locator

Hate Crime Reporting
NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force: (646) 610-5267
New York City Public Advocate: (212) 669-7250
New York State Attorney General: (866) 390-2992
New York State Division of Human Rights: (888) 392-3644

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First Impressions of the U.S.

Class 1B recently wrote stories about their first days in the United States. Read one story below and take the quiz afterwards to test your understanding!

A Memorable Day

Shelly Zhong

My husband, my son, and I came to the U.S. on September 30, 2013 because my husband said, “We  are so young. We should go to see the world outside.”

In the morning, we took three suitcases, and went to the Guangzhou Baiyun airport. The first stop was at the Hong Kong airport for one hour. After that we changed to the U.S. airplane and said goodbye to our country.

On the plane, my mood was very uneasy. I thought a lot. In China, I had a good job, but I couldn’t I do it in the U.S. because my English was very bad. Also I heard that in the U.S. it snows a lot in the winter and it’s very cold. I was very worried.

After about fifteen hours, we arrived at JFK airport. It was night. After we picked up our three suitcases, we waited for my sister.

I heard my sister call my name. We hugged. My sister helped me pull the suitcase and we walked outside and waited for my sister-in-law to pick us up.

It was raining, and I felt very cold. I didn’t see many houses or many buildings. I saw a lot of different skin colors and heard different languages.

After we got to my sister’s home, my sister prepared a hearty dinner for us. But I wasn’t in the mood to eat because I felt very tired, and I felt strange and homesick. I cried. I wanted to go back to China. My sister held me and said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”


To read more stories, click here.

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