TIMES SQUARE — Giant electronic billboards in Times Square shine down on fixtures that have all but vanished from New York: three humble phone booths.
The phones ring and passerby who step into any of the booths and pick up the receiver are greeted with an immigrant’s story. Once Upon a Place, an installation created by Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi, was designed so New Yorkers and tourists alike can learn more about the lives of immigrants. It’s an experience that more people every day can relate to; research estimates one in three Americans will be an immigrant or have immigrant parents by 2065.
“For me, the most important outcome of Once Upon a Place is that, no matter how different the experiences of migration might be among the storytellers, visitors will hear the common humanity in their voices,” Mojadidi said in a press release.
The project tackles a subject of increased public interest since President Donald Trump took office and announced a travel ban. Continued discussions around his proposed wall at the border with Mexico have also led to concerns in immigrant communities.
Mojadidi gathered stories from 70 immigrants for the phone booths. He spent several months meeting with and recording the stories of immigrants.
Visitors can pick up the phone and listen to an oral history that lasts anywhere from two to 15 minutes. New York City residents from Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Russia, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Yemen shared their stories.
One man shared the story of his trip to America. He was just 3-years-old and his mother carried him across the border on her back.
More than a third of New Yorkers are foreign-born and close to 800 languages are spoken in the city.
Once Upon a Place will be at Duffy Square (46th Street and Seventh Avenue) until Sept. 5.