For the first year, I didn't like it. Why? Because it was a quiet city, not many people. And then after one year, I love Philadelphia... I am very thankful for what the country has gave to me, but I am paying back. And I don't see myself in Mexico, not at all. I consider myself Mexican, but I feel more happy here. I feel myself in here. I found something in here that makes me feel part of it.
East Passyunk Avenue between Dickinson Street and Broad Street is going through a flood of change. Ten years ago, the restaurants lining this long-time business corridor were almost exclusively Italian American, and the only bars were decades-old taverns. In the residential streets that flank East Passyunk, home prices had remained low, with families living on their blocks for generations. But in a few short years, sushi bistros have joined the red gravy joints, and newly-minted micro-brews are on tap at taverns both old and new. Mancuso’s Cheese Shop, famous for homemade ricotta, has been joined by an organic grocery and a French bakery owned by Cambodian refugees. These changes are bittersweet: they alter the tenor of “the Avenue” but also revitalize it, bringing it back to the vibrant, bustling business corridor it was throughout much of the twentieth century. Balanced at the moment of this revitalization, Start Here used video, oral history, and movement to explore the choreography of journey.
Beginning at the corner of Morris Street and East Passyunk, “Arthur Murray-style” instructional footprint patterns constructed of multicolored pavement tape led pedestrians south. Each set of footprints mapped out an original choreography that was created by drawing on first-person “journey stories”: how a person or a person’s family came to the United States and eventually became rooted in South Philadelphia. The footprints ended at a vacant but perfectly preserved barbershop, where video and audio installations further explored the stories of the sidewalk choreographies.
The dance patterns on the sidewalk invited people to participate by experiencing a memory and a story with their own bodies. This created a unique and ever evolving dance—first, for the participants, moving through the patterns, and second, for the bystanders, seeing pedestrians engaged in movement in the middle of the sidewalk. At the heart of this exploration was the question: “Where do the paths of immigration intersect?” On the Avenue, the embodied stories of people of diverse cultures merged at a single intersection. They were revealed in new ways as physical interactions overlapped with the multiple layers of their journeys.