Connecting Some Dots:      

the Sunnyside Stories Project

    

          Some explanation of my interest in gathering stories from my childhood is perhaps in order, and will give greater understanding to the Sunnyside Stories project.  The Sunnyside Story collection was seeded by three facts of my life – having grown up in Sunnyside Gardens the child of Communists in the 1950’s, my brother David’s longstanding work to foment hatred towards certain groups of people, and the presidential campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump, this last event galvanizing me to begin this project.

                

          My brother David and I grew up in a modest attached brick row house in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens.  Our parents, Blanche and Phil, were pretty ordinary people:  when not working, my mother liked to garden; my father strolled around the neighborhood; they had friends in to visit.  They were caring and helpful, and people responded positively to them despite the divide of politics and religion.  

 

          What was unusual about my folks was their belief that a better world was possible, and that the Communist Party of America held the best promise to reach that goal.  They were for peaceful solutions to world problems, and against nuclear armament, for better working conditions for everyone, and against the rule of Jim Crow for Afro-Americans.  And so they dedicated much of their lives working to integrate the New York City school system through their membership in the independent Teachers Union, and helping people in the neighborhood with tenant issues through the Sunnyside-Woodside Tenants Council.   

 

          The maxim of altruism, the Golden Rule, was as solid a belief in my little being as any other I can think of, passed down from the earliest through my grandmother, continued through my parents and, I believe, instilled in all of us children growing up at the time as the civil way to treat other people.  David and I were raised to treat all people as equals, to behave respectfully towards everyone no matter their color or creed, and to think of all mankind as a brotherhood.  My parents made mistakes in the normal way of parents, but they were not haters, nor did they ever teach David and me to hate, either by word or by deed.  It is, therefore, completely anomalous that David has strayed so far from his roots.

 

          The 2016 presidential campaign, during which bigoted rhetoric became normalized and the threat of violence towards minority groups a reality, thrust me back into my childhood memories of being the other, the outsider, the victim of forces I could not control and which frightened me so deeply that my reticence remained intact until now. 

 

          My parents should not have been demonized by the powers that existed in the 1950’s, and we, their children, should not have grown up in fear that they would be whisked away to jail.  My father should not have been fired, my mother not harassed out of her job.  My parents should not have been hounded by FBI agents accosting them in the streets of Sunnyside.  And we neighborhood children should not have been separated from each other by fear and hate. 

 

           It is easy to paint a group of people with one brush out of political expedience, more difficult when those people become known through their stories.   Insofar as I begin to see history repeat itself in a very dark way, I am impelled to collect stories from 1940-50s Sunnyside as I am impelled to write my own.

Ruth Horowitz, 2016

The following poem was written by Martin Neimoller (1892–1984), a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

 

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left