“Ironbound Foodscapes”, the latest digital multimedia project from Newest Americans, takes a look at the changing landscape of the iconic Ferry Street in Newark, NJ through its food and architecture.
Ferry Street is intimately connected with food. Since the 1970s, Ferry Street’s Iberian restaurants have attracted visitors to the neighborhood and sustained the local economy. More recently, immigrants from Latin American countries have expanded the culinary and cultural dimensions of the neighborhood.
The project uses photographs, interviews, and architectural histories of five very distinct restaurants to map the changing demographics of the neighborhood: Portuguese bakery/cafe Nova Aliança, which has been around for four decades, trendy Spanish tapas bar Mompou, Brazilian restaurant Sabor Unido, La Guayaca, which serves coastal Ecuadorian food, and Bocaditos Colombianos, a small eatery specializing in Columbian food.
“We chose these five restaurants because each of them represented a part of the immigrant demographic that is significant right now in the Ironbound,” said Tim Raphael, co-founder and director of Newest Americans and professor in Arts, Culture and Media.
Ironbound Foodscapes explores the communities that constellate around these restaurants, and then uses the buildings to do a deeper dive into Newark history to get a better sense of how the different communities have moved through the Ironbound over the last hundred and forty years or so, from the early German settlers to the Italians and Portuguese and more recently, immigrants from South America.
“It’s a really fascinating way to look at the immigrant history of the neighborhood, the social history, food as both a marker of culture and community, but also the way in which those kinds of sites become places where new communities negotiate their place within this neighborhood,” said Raphael.
Initial research for Ironbound Foodscapes was conducted by Newest Americans’ Project Manager for Urban Landscape, Dr. Sahar Hosseini, working with Rutgers-Newark Global Urban Studies doctoral students Gulse Eraydin and Thayane Bretas.
“Working on the Ironbound Foodscape Project has been a great experience for so many reasons. I am honestly glad that I have been part of it, not only because I learned a lot in terms of research methods and representation techniques, but also I had a chance to connect and bond with the immigrant community of the Ironbound on a deep level,” said Gulse Eraydin Ozkan, who is in her third year of the Global Urban Studies Ph.D. program.
The stories of Ironbound Foodscapes focus on the people who run these restaurants, the food they serve, and the role that food plays in an immigrant neighborhood. They also delve into the histories of the buildings that house these restaurants, and the stories they tell about Ironbound’s past and the people who made it. “We focus on food and landscape because they are both imbued with the material traces, complex histories and multiple memories of communities who call, or once called, Ironbound home,” said Raphael.
Thayane Bretas, who, like Eraydin, is in her third year of doctoral studies, said it “was an honor and a privilege to work in this project; for not just discovering the brilliance of the neighborhood that was my first home in this country, but for analyzing familiar communities from a new lens, and, on the way, learning about the power of resilience, endurance, and of the sense of home.”
Ironbound Foodscapes can be viewed at: https://www.ironboundfoodscapes.com.
All photos by Anthony Alvarez.