Monday, December 03, 2007

Growing up Dover

I was talking with a close friend of mine the other day and in passing she said to me, “I didn’t know you grew up in such a rough town?” I was a bit taken back by this question and I said to her “What do you mean?” She said a friend of hers heard I was from Dover, NJ and couldn’t believe that I had grown up in there. I have been thinking about this conversation for quite a long time now – mulling it over in my mind, thinking about what my friend’s friend thought about my hometown. (She had grown up in a neighboring municipality.) By no means was I “worried” about what she thought – I just thought it was odd.

Dover, NJ is located in northwest New Jersey – about 35 miles west of New York City. It is a town that has always been a destination for new immigrants. My paternal grandparents arrived separately in the early 1900’s – my grandmother from Germany and my grandfather from southwest England. Dover was full of immigrants from other places too – Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, eastern Europe, and more which today I can’t quite remember. The town had many brick factories and a bustling downtown full of more brick storefronts. People came in droves from all over the world during the great migration to the USA in the early part of the 20th century and many settled in Dover. Different neighborhoods had different nicknames –including “Little Italy” and “Germantown”.

Growing up in this town, everyone was from somewhere. We often talked amongst our friends to see where their families came from. It made our lives very interesting – there were all kinds of different cultures in our classrooms which made holidays like Christmas and Hannukah especially fun.

As we grew older, many of my parents’ friends began moving their families out of town to suburbs that were being built around the town. They didn’t want their children to go to school in an urban environment. Perhaps they thought they had gotten too good to remain that they had to move on – up and out. As these families moved out, others moved in – immigrants from other places. I had friends from Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other South American countries along with many friends who were grandchildren of the immigrants that had come earlier in the 20th century. My sisters and I just thought this was normal and commonplace. My parents couldn’t understand why their friends were leaving.

As this was happening, the surrounding countryside began sprouting shopping malls replacing the woodlands and farms. The towns around us grew and grew and Dover languished. The storefronts became empty – people became afraid to come to downtown Dover. Why – I’ll never know. I think they were afraid of shopping where everyone wasn’t the same as them. Or they were afraid of the unknown.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I found out that I grew up in a different kind of town – a town that seemed to celebrate different cultures – now it might be called “ethnic diversity.” For me, it was just plain normal – people from all over the world speaking different languages and having different customs. It made it fun to visit friends’ homes and to see how they lived. I learned that no one particular culture’s way was right or wrong.

Now when I return “home to Dover” I am amazed by the bustling success it has once again become. All the beautiful old brick buildings are full of businesses. Most of them cater to the Spanish speaking population. But there’s also many of the old businesses still doing business the way they did 100 years ago. There’s also been some lovely additions including an antique center, a few thrift stores, and the famous
Joe Kubert School for Cartooning. It is so good to see so many families enjoying the turn of the century homes and celebrating life in America.

As we ready ourselves for the upcoming December holidays, I must say I feel thankful for the upbringing I had in a funny little diversely populated town in NJ where I felt loved. I am sure it is where my interest in textiles from all over the world began. When I started studying textiles at university, I naturally wanted to learn more about textiles from different lands. I still retail this interest today and “ethnic fabrics” remain an important design influence in much of my work.

This year, I am going to try to introduce some of the cultural richness I grew up with around Christmas to Julia. Where we live now, although there is so much natural beauty, the cultural diversity is severely lacking. I'll also try to share it here with all of you on the blog.


Diane said...

Hey there, Kristin.

Funny, we'd come to the same decision re: Christmas for Pixie. Each year we plan to celebrate Christmas in the style of a different country that does the Christmas thing.

Just wanted to let you know that I started a Kristin Knits! group on Ravelry. Hope you don't mind.

Glad to read in an earlier post that Mark boosted the fencing. Good plan.

anmiryam said...

Growing up in NYC I have many of the same feelings about the diversity of my neighborhood growing up. It was very rich in some things that are lacking here in my very mono-cultural suburb. Thank goodness my mom still lives in the same place and the girls get to visit often and see a different way of life.

Blogger won't let me leave a web addy anymore. :(

Patricia said...

Hi Kristin,
Here in Baltimore we have a rich community. There is Greektown, Cornbeef row, little Italy just to name a few. While I have yet to find a trove of textile resellers, I enjoy hearing all the voices and different shops in Baltimore. It has always been that way, and yes there is/was a migration to the county, but new immigrants head straight for the city.

coffeechris said...

Thank you for this blog. Julia will be so fortunate to be enriched in both nature and culture, wrapped in love. "God Bless Us Everyone" Let's celebrate everyone and live and learn. More to experience than strip malls. I gained so much about Dover today, would like to visit sometime. Merry Multi-color-Culture Christmas
All I want for Christmas is "Peace,Joy", okay- yeah------and maybe Kristin Knits and some Julia yarns.

Theresa said...

WHile Boonton did not experience the cultural diversity the way Dover did when I was growing up there, it did/does suffer from the growth or sprawl in the surrounding communities. My brother now tells me there is diversity in Boonton which is a great thing.My family eperiences a ton of great diverse life experiences in West Hartford, CT that include religion, economics, and ethnicities. It IS quite a blessing. I am glad to hear that Dover is doing better. I think I remember that the Rockaway Mall had a big impact on retail in Dover?Cannot remember!?! Now the "in" thing is the small town expereince once again.
Thanks for letting me ramble!


Linda said...

I enjoyed reading about your NJ town! I too grew up in a lovely small NJ town (northern NJ) called Montvale. It has changed alot over the years, but it is still home! I now live in Mass too? Only closer to Boston. Small world sometimes? even on the huge internet. Nice to meet you!

Miss Eagle said...

In Australia, this is called multi-culturalism. I love living in ethnically diverse communities which are truly intertwined. This is the spice of life.

Blessings and bliss

Joanne said...

Thanks for this lovely post about diversity! I never knew how lucky I was in a variety of east coast communities regarding this, until I moved to KY. I always feel relieved now when I'm travelling and am reminded again how multicultural things really are in the USA. (I feel isolated in this regard where I live!) Btw, I've always felt your designs do justice to this notion with such bright colors and such a variety of patterns. It was like you were talking about this through knitting and illustration!

projektleiterin said...

I am Asian, but I grew up in a small town in Germany. When I was older and able to travel I saw places that were much more multicultural and I realized that these were places I want to live. That was a nice post. :)

Jan said...

Hey Kristen~
so nice to read your thoughts on growing up in Dover. How true they are. I live in the neighborhood town of Randolph now and we are still hit with this mulit-culutral issue daily. Who could think that a town so close could miss out on such a rich education. Children are much better off having the exeriences that you and I had growing up. I know that my chilren living on the "Dover" side of Randolph have had the opportunity to have some of the same experiences that we had, after all that is a representation of the our world today.
Nice chatting with you,

Pat/SWquilter said...

Beautiful commentary about your hometown! I love the ethnic diversity that is part of this country, although I didn't grow up in a place where there was much of it. Thanks for sharing!

Pat H/SWquilter