New Radio Broadcast Gives Voice to NYC’s Diaspora Communities
By Melissa Noel
Class of 2012
The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s pilot radio show, “Where I’m From”, started with a statement: “This is a show for the new America, the majority minority America, where the question, ‘where are you from?,’ is not so straightforward.”
The declaration, by host and CUNY J-School radio instructor Jesse Hardman, set the tone for the two-hour show which took place onstage at Manhattan’s historic Webster Hall on Apr. 20.
An enthusiastic audience enjoyed conversations with guests representing the talents and experiences of New York City’s diaspora populations. The show traveled from the Congo to Colombia, Pakistan to the Philippines, and Turkey to Taiwan through music and stories of migration culture, culinary traditions, and more.
Performers included Kinshasa-born musician Isaac Katalay and his “Lifelong Project” band. The tireless Katalay played before, during, and after the event, guiding a 12-piece ensemble through songs inspired by his life both in the Congo and New York. “The music reflects everyone you see here, it reflects your idea of justice, your idea of ideology, it reflects your idea of joy,” said Katalay.
“Where I’m From” also featured photographer Annie Ling, who has been documenting migrant Chinese populations in New York’s Bowery neighborhood, Turkish coffee reader Saba Hocek, and journalist and immigration reform advocate Jose Antonio Vargas.
Vargas’s message played off the program’s theme, bringing it back to the current debate on immigration reform. “I think the era of defining people as minorities is over,” he said. “Where I’m from is not just a place where we mow your lawns, raise your kids, and serve you drinks. We also are in your colleges and we’re all around you. Where I’m from is a place where we’re fighting to be treated like full human beings.”
His story resonated with many in the diverse audience. “Jose Antonio Vargas knocked me out, he really blew me away,” Jodell Shields said. “I think learning about the exposure and people documenting what is going on in their world in the U.S. is something fascinating.”
Shields received a link to information about the event from a friend. For her, the phrase “Where I’m From” represented a worldview that inspired her to come.
This global perspective was expressed not only in performances, but also in food. Bangladeshi cuisine from Neerob Restaurant in the Bronx was an added highlight of the afternoon.
“I loved that the food was from a specific culture. There was no pizza here in case you didn’t like it,” said CUNY J- School student Nadja Thomas
“It made you step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. It was great.”
Prospective students from the Class of 2014 were also invited to the show as a part of School’s accepted students open house weekend. It was the first time an event like this has been included and it received a warm response.
Taylor Killough tweeted “Free food and drink, incredible entertainment and kindred spirits. Consider myself very lucky to be a future student.”
“Where I’m From” is an effort to expand the reach of public media and include more diverse voices on the airwaves. A one-hour version of the show will broadcast on Manhattan’s WHCR 90.3 FM on May 8th at 5pm. A second show with new performers and guests is planned for May 18 and will be held at Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn.