I’m Sarita Daftary-Steel, and I conducted, and edited, the interviews on this site. I wanted to complete this project both to expand awareness of the history of East New York – a community that I care deeply about – and to contribute to our understanding of racial segregation and inequality in the North.
I began working in East New York since 2003, and spent ten years as a staff member of United Community Centers, working on the East New York Farms! Project. I worked everyday with community activists who cultivated gardens on the vacant properties that followed abandoned buildings, and I tried to learn as much as I could about why those properties were abandoned, and what those turbulent times of the 60s and 70s were like in East New York. In most cases, I found people’s personal stories to be the best source, though they were mostly not documented. And since most of us do live in such racially segregated neighborhoods - in New York City and across the country - I wanted to ask people about their experience of a brief window of time in which East New York was racially integrated, even temporarily.
Lastly, I think most Americans generally lack an understanding of this crucial part of our history. If our main references for racial discrimination are slavery and Jim Crow laws, these fail to adequately explain the deep racial disparities in wealth and quality of life that we see in New York City. I lacked this understanding until my early 20s, and have seen many people – from the teenagers I’ve worked with in East New York to some of my relatives in Long Island – assume that the inequities we see are the result of individual choices, actions and characteristics.
I hope this project will help to illuminate a much fuller picture of this history.
I’m eager to hear about what you think of this site, what your questions are, and how you’ve used the information here. You can contact me at enyoralhistory [at] gmail.com.
All images and audio remain the property of Sarita Daftary-Steel or the copyright holders. Please contact enyoralhistory [at] gmail.com if you’d like to use these files.
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