Hundreds gathered last night at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem for a preview of the highly anticipated exhibit “Nueva York (1613-1945).” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the keynote remarks and was as much a draw as the expansive exhibit. “This exhibit tells a story unknown to most people,” Sotomayor said. “Our history begins earlier than most people think. [It] is finally told to appreciate the achievements of our forebearers."
Nueva York, presented in collaboration with the New York Historical Society, reveals the powerful role that Latinos and Spanish-speaking countries played in shaping New York across the last four centuries. This dynamic history is chronicled in artworks, documents, books, artifacts, an installation by Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell and a documentary by Ric Burns.
One of the many surprising facts the exhibit shows is that Latinos predate the city. Juan Rodriguez, a sailor from the island of Hispaniola, became the first Hispanic to emigrate to New York City and its first foreign-born resident in 1612 (a full year before the Dutch settled a permanent post).
Sotomayor acknowledged that she has learned more about her parents plight to come to New York. Her mother and father left Puerto Rico during World War II aboard the S.S. George S. Simmons. "I thought everyone came by airplane," Sotomayor joked.
Nueva York opens today and runs through Jan. 9 at El Museo del Barrio.