MetroFocus: December 1, 2020

For nearly thirty years, journalist Maria Hinojosa has made it her life’s work to report on the lives and struggles of some of America’s most marginalized communities. Her keen journalistic eye has earned her a number of awards, including a Peabody and multiple Emmys. And now, the Emmy award–winning journalist, and anchor and executive producer of Latino USA is hoping to connect once again by telling her own story. In her new book, “Once I Was You: A Memoir Of Love And Hate In A Torn America”, she shares her own experience as a Mexican American woman, offering an eye-opening account of how the rhetoric and policy over immigration has shaped modern day America.

For the first time in 38-years, New York State has gained a new municipality. The town of Palm Tree, NY came into existence on January 1st 2019, but like any other birth story, it did not come without strife. Palm Tree is the latest iteration of a tiny village called Kiryas Joel- a Yiddish speaking, deeply religious Hasidic Jewish community, with a physical footprint of only 1 square mile. And with a population over 20-thousand and growing, they needed more space to build more houses. But the town of Monroe, New York, of which they were a part, expressed deep reservations about allowing this fast growing community to annex any new land. Producer/Director, Jesse Sweet takes us inside the boiling point of tension in “City of Joel.”

TRANSCRIPT

> THIS IS 'METRO FOCUS' WITH RAFAEL PI ROMAN, JACK FORD AND JENNA FLANAGAN.

'METRO FOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG.

AND BY JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, DR. ROBERT C.

AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION.

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS,' I'M JAKE FORD.

FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS, JOURNALIST MARIA HINOJOSA MADE IT HER LIFE'S WORK TO REPORT ON THE LIVES AND STRUGGLES OF SOME OF AMERICA'S MOST MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES.

THE JOURNALISTIC EYE ALONG WITH HER GIFT OF ILLUMINATING THE HUMANITY OF OUR SUBJECTS HAS EARNED HER A NUMBER OF AWARDS.

NOW, HOWEVER, SHE'S TURNING THAT JOURNALISTIC EYE ON HERSELF.

HER NEW BOOK IS TITLED 'ONCE I WAS YOU.'

A MEMOIR OF LOVE AND HATE IN A TORN AMERICA.

IT TELLS A STORY OF HER OWN EXPERIENCES AS A MEK MEXICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN.

AND HOW THE RHETORIC AND POLICY OVER IMMIGRATION HAS SHAPED MODERN DAY AMERICA.

WE ARE DELIGHTED TO HAVE HER JOINING US NOW.

AWARD-WINNING JOURNALIST, ANCHOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF LATINO USA.

MARIA HINOJOSA.

HEY, JACK, IT'S GREAT TO BE WITH YOU.

THIS IS, I'M GOING TO SAY, IT'S A MARVELOUS BOOK.

THANK YOU.

IT'S JUST SUCH A WONDERFUL INTERWEAVING OF YOUR PERSONAL LIFE AND OBSTACLES AND STRUGGLES AND SUCCESSES AND THE BIGGER PICTURE OF HISTORY AND IMMIGRATION.

LET ME START WITH, IF I CAN, THE -- I'M ALWAYS FASCINATED BY THE TITLES OF BOOKS.

AND I LOOKED AT YOURS AND I SAID, OKAY, 'ONCE I WAS YOU.'

I'M GOING TO ASK MARIA ABOUT WHERE THAT CAME FROM AND THEN I READ THE ANECDOTE THAT YOU START WITH BOOK WITH.

GIVE ME A SENSE OF THAT ANECDOTE AND HOW IT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS TITLE.

YOU KNOW, JACK, I LOVE THE FACT THAT YOU'RE FASCINATED WITH TITLE SO I'LL CALL YOU NEXT TIME --

IT'S THE HARDEST THING TO DO.

I'VE WRITTEN THREE BOOKS.

HARDEST THING IS TO COME UP WITH A TITLE.

WE DID NOT HAVE A TITLE.

WE WERE STRUGGLING.

AND THEN WE HAD A FRESH TAKE AND SOMEBODY WROTE THE INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK, WHICH I WROTE, ACTUALLY, ONCE I HAD FINISHED THE BOOK, I WENT BACK AND WROTE THE INTRODUCTION AND IT WAS, THE GREAT AMERICAN WRITER WHO WROTE 'THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET' IS A DEAR FRIEND OF MINE AND SAID, DON'T ALWAYS WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU REMEMBER, WRITE ABOUT THE THINGS THAT YOU SHOULD FORGET.

I THOUGHT THAT WAS A FABULOUS LINE.

I THOUGHT, WHAT GREAT ADVICE TO A JOURNALIST AND A WRITER.

RIGHT?

AND SO THEN, I THOUGHT, WHAT DO I WISH I COULD FORGET?

WHAT IS THAT THING?

AND I REMEMBERED THIS SCENE IN THE McALLEN AIRPORT RIGHT AROUND THE TIME WHEN EVERYBODY WAS BECOMING AWARE OF THE FACT THAT CHILDREN WERE BEING RIPPED OUT OF THE ARMS OF THEIR PARENTS AS A FORM OF POLICY AND PUNISHMENT FOR PEOPLE WHO WERE BASICALLY REFUGEES AND SO I -- I SEE THIS LITTLE GIRL IN THE AIRPORT AND, YOU KNOW, JACK, BACK WHEN WE WERE FLYING AROUND, YOU KNOW, ALL THE TIME, I HAVE A LOT OF GOOD AIRPORT -- I KNOW HOW TO JUDGE AIRPORT VIBE.

LITTLE KIDS IN AIRPORTS ARE ALWAYS HAPPY, PERIOD.

THIS LITTLE GIRL WAS NOT.

SHE WAS SITTING THERE ALMOST CATATONIC BUT GORGEOUS AND STHE I REALIZED THERE WAS A GROUP OF KIDS THE SAME, ALL JUST LIKE BLANK-FACED.

AND THEN I REALIZED WHAT WAS HAPPENING.

I WAS WITNESSING A GROUP OF THESE CHILDREN WHO HAD BEEN TAKEN FROM THEIR PARENTS AND WAS NOTHING BUT TAKEN SOME PLACE ELSE ON A FLIGHT IN McKALLEN.

AND SO AS A JOURNALIST, YOU KNOW, I WAS JUST LIKE, OH, MY GOD, THIS IS MY MOMENT, AND SO I WENT AND I SAT NEXT TO HER AND I STARTED SPEAKING WITH HER AND THEN, OF COURSE, SOON AFTER, THE PEOPLE WHO WERE TRANSPORTING THESE CHILDREN, YOU KNOW, PULLED THEM ALL UP, GOT THEM INTO LINE, I WAS TOLD I COULD NOT SPEAK TO THEM.

AND THEN I WAS SPEAKING, AS WE SAID IN SPANISH, I STARTED SPEAKING OUTLOUD IN SPANISH TO THESE PEOPLE WHO WERE TRANSPORTING THE CHILDREN AND I SAID, IN SPANISH, 'I WANT THESE CHILDREN TO HEAR ME, THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO SPEAK TO JOURNALISTS, THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY WHO CARE ABOUT THEM, WHO CARE ABOUT THEIR WHEREABOUTS, WHO DON'T SEE THEM AS A THREAT OR THE ENEMY.

JTS AND THEN AS I WAS WRITING, I SAID, I WANTED THIS LITTLE GIRL TO HEAR ME, BECAUSE I WANTED HER TO KNOW THAT I SEE YOU, BECAUSE ONCE I WAS YOU.

AND THEN THE THING THAT HAPPENED, JACK, IN THE WRITING OF THIS BOOK, AND FRANKLY, IN THE POLICIES UNDER THIS ADMINISTRATION, THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION, IS THAT I REALIZED SOMETHING THAT I -- I JUST DIDN'T REALLY UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF IT, BUT WHEN I ARRIVED IN THIS COUNTRY WITH PRIVILEGE, WITH A GREEN CARD, WITH MY MOTHER, BY PLANE, TO MEET MY FATHER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, SO, WE'RE TALKING PRIVILEGE, NOT WEALTH, BUT PRIVILEGE, IMMIGRATION AGENTS IN TEXAS AT THE DALLAS AIRPORT TRIED TO TAKE ME.

AND THAT -- THAT IS PART OF THE STORY AND I DIDN'T EVEN REALIZE IT.

AND AGAIN, I DON'T KNOW, HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR THIS PARTICULAR ADMINISTRATION, IF I WOULD HAVE BEEN PUSHED TO KIND OF SEE THAT TRAUMA.

IS THAT THE WHY -- BECAUSE THE NEXT QUESTION I WAS GOING TO ASK YOU WAS THIS, AND BY THE WAY, THAT FIRST, THAT ANECDOTE, I READ IT AND I SAT BACK AND I SAID, OH, OKAY.

NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY FOR HER, FROM MY PERSPECTIVE.

YEAH.

WHY NOW?

WHY THIS BOOK?

BECAUSE THIS IS -- YOU COULD HAVE WRITTEN THIS TEN YEARS AGO, YOU COULD WRITE IT TEN YEARS FROM NOW.

WHY NOW?

SO, JACK, YOU AND I ARE JOURNALISTS, WE ARE VERY USED TO DAILY DEADLINES, WEEKLY DEADLINE.

WE WRITE LIKE THIS.

WELL, BUT YOU'RE A BOOK WRITER, SO, YOU KNOW.

TO ME, BOOK WRITING IS LIKE, OH, MY GOD, NO, LIKE, THE LAST THING I WANT TO DO IS WRITE A BOOK, BECAUSE IT TAKES SO MUCH OUT OF YOU.

AND SUCH A COMMITMENT.

I DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE A ACTUALLY, I WAS AFRAID.

I ADMIT THAT I WAS REALLY SCARED OF WRITING ANOTHER BOOK, BUT IT WAS 2016 AND I HAD THIS VIRAL MOMENT ON MSNBC WHERE I SAID TO STEVE CORTEZ, A TRUMP SURROGATE, ILLEGAL IS NOT A NOUN.

HE WAS USING ILL AS A NOUN.

I SAID, ILLEGAL IS NOT A NOUN.

THE FIRST THING THE NAZIS DID WAS TO CALL THE JEWS AN ILLEGAL PEOPLE.

A COLLEAGUE SAID, OH, THAT'S THE BOOK.

I SAID, OH, I CAN WRITE A LITTLE POCKETBOOK, YOU KNOW, THE KIND THAT WE COURTHOUSED TO PICK UP WHEN WE WERE AT THE AIRPORT, YOU WOULD PICK IT UP AND READ IT IN ONE SITTING.

I WAS LIKE, I CAN WRITE THAT BOOK.

THAT'S A SMALL BOOK.

MY PUBLISHER, WHEN I KIND OF GOT AN AGENT, ET CETERA, THEY WERE LIKE, WE ACTUALLY DON'T WANT A SMALL BOOK, WE WANT A BIG BOOK FROM YOU AND THAT'S WHEN I WAS LIKE, OH, MY GOD.

WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO?

WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO?

AND YOU KNOW, ALSO, WHEN I WAS -- I HAD JUST FINISHED IT AT THE END OF 2019 AND I WAS LIKE, NOBODY'S GOING TO KCARE ABOUT THIS BOOK, THERE'S NOTHING NEW TO SAY.

SO, I LOVE IT WHEN PEOPLE SAY IT FEELS SO PERFECT FOR THIS MOMENT, BECAUSE -- YOU KNOW, IT WAS JUST LIFE THAT LED ITSELF TO BE THIS WAY, AND AGAIN, I DON'T KNOW -- IT'S WEIRD.

I'VE ACTUALLY NEVER SAID THIS BEFORE, BUT HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR THIS PARTICULAR ADMINISTRATION, MAYBE I MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN FORCED, IN A WAY, TO WRITE THIS BOOK.

WELL, IT WAS THE RIGHT TIME FOR IT.

LET ME ASK YOU, AS I MENTIONED, IT'S THIS INTERESTING WORK AND YOU DESCRIBED IT AS A HISTORICAL MEMOIR.

SO, THE MEMOIR PART IS FASCINATING AND IT'S AGAINST THE BACKDROP OF THE HISTORY, YOUR HISTORY, OUR HISTORY.

I WAS STRUCK BY THE FACT THAT WITH THE GREAT SUCCESSES YOU'VE HAD AS A JOURNALIST THAT YOU TALK ABOUT THE FIRST DAY YOU WALKED INTO THE NPR NEWSROOM AND YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS BEING TERRIFIED.

WHY TERRIFIED?

OH, MY GOD.

WELL, LOOK, JACK, THERE WAS JUST NO WAY TO GET AROUND IT.

IT WAS THE FIRST LATINA HIRED TO WORK IN THE NEWSROOM AT NPR.

THE FIRST.

IT WAS 1985.

SO, OF COURSE YES, I HAD GRADUATED FROM BARNARD, BUT ONE OF THE THINGS I WRITE ABOUT IN THE BOOK A LOT IS THE IMPOSTER SYNDROME.

JUST ALWAYS FEELING LIKE, AM I REALLY SUPPOSED TO BE HERE?

OH, MY GOD, THEY'RE GOING TO FIND OUT THAT I'M JUST THIS MEXICAN IMMIGRANT KID AND I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE, I'M NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

THAT'S ONE OF THE THEMES THROUGHOUT THE BOOK THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE ACTUALLY CONNECTED TO.

SO I -- I WAS TERRIFIED, I MEAN, I HAD A TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY.

TO ME, IT WASN'T JUST, LIKE, OH, YOU GOT A JOB AS A JOURNALIST.

IT WAS, TO ME, YOU GOT A JOB AS A JOURNALIST AT NPR BECAUSE OF THE KIND OF -- OF JOURNALIST, ALREADY, BECAUSE I WAS A BUDDING JOURNALIST AT BARNARD, THAT YOU HAVE BECOME.

AND THAT'S A TESTAMENT TO JAY, WHO HIRED ME AND WAS THE CREATOR OF 'MORNING EDITION' AND FORMER PRODUCER OF '60 MINUTES' AND NOW IS AT 'CBS SUNDAY MORNING.'

JAY HIRED ME BECAUSE OF THE PERSON THAT I WAS, TO BRING THAT INTO HIS NEWSROOM, BECAUSE HE SAW THAT.

SO, IT WASN'T ADDED WEIGHT, IT WASN'T JUST, LIKE, IT'S MY FIRST DAY ON MY JOB, BUT IT'S LIKE, IT'S YOUR FIRST DAY ON YOUR JOB AND YOU ARE THE FIRST.

AND THERE WERE PEOPLE THAT ABSOLUTELY SAW ME AS AN AFFIRMATIVE ACTION HIRE.

BUT THE WAY I DEALT WITH IT WAS, I'M IN THIS ROOM, I'M IN THIS PLACE, I HAVE PRIVILEGE, I'VE GOT RESPONSIBILITY, I'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING NOT JUST FOR ME, BUT FOR ALL OF THESE STORIES THAT NEED TO BE TOLD.

YOU THINK -- YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT 1985.

A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED BY HEARING THAT YOU WERE THE FIRST PERSON AND IT WAS 1985.

DO YOU THINK THAT OUR NEWSROOMS ACROSS THIS COUNTRY, AND I'M TALKING ABOUT, YOU KNOW, BROADCAST, CABLE, DIGITAL, ONLINE, DO YOU THINK WE ARE -- WE ARE -- WHERE WE SHOULD BE IN TERMS OF RECOGNIZING THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF PEOPLE WHO DON'T LOOK LIKE US?

OR SOUND LIKE US?

OR ARE WE STILL WAY BEHIND ON THAT?

WE'RE STILL WAY BEHIND.

AND THE REASON WHY I SAY THAT, JACK, IS BECAUSE THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING JOURNALISTS OF COLOR AND OF CONSCIENCE, AND BY THE WAY, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A JOURNALIST OF COLOR TO BE A JOURNALIST OF CONSCIENCE.

BUT THE TRAJECTORY THAT WE HAVE IN THIS COUNTRY IS SO ESSENTIAL.

I DON'T KNOW IF YOU READ THIS BOOK, BUT YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE IT, IT'S CALLED 'NEWS FOR ALL THE PEOPLE' WRITTEN BY JUAN GONZALEZ.

AND WHAT IT DOES IS, IT TALKS ABOUT THE ROLE, PARTICULARLY OF JOURNALISTS OF COLOR.

AND WHEN I UNDERSTOOD THAT, I WAS LIKE, NOW I UNDERSTAND MY ROLE.

I'M TIED TO FREDRIK DOUGLAS, WHO WAS BORN INTO SLIFRY AND THEN LAUNCHES THE FIRST BLACK-OWNED BLACK-EDITED NEWSPAPER IN OUR COUNTRY.

SO, WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT IS ACTUALLY DOING THE BEST JOURNALISM THAT WE CAN DO.

IMAGINE IF FREDRIK DOUGLAS HAD BEEN EDITOR IN CHIEF OF 'THE WASHINGTON POST' FOR EXAMPLE.

IMAGINE HOW WE WOULD HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT OR COVERS THE ISSUE OF SLAVERY IF HE HAD BEEN THE EDITOR IN CHIEF.

NOW, IT'S NOT TO SAY THAT THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN EDITORS IN CHIEF HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE PEOPLE, THEY'RE GREAT JOURNALISTS, BUT YOU ONLY SEE -- THAT'S WHY I LOVE WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT BEING RAISED BY A SINGLE MOTHER, BY THE FACT THAT YOU, YOU KNOW, YOU HAD TO -- YOU WERE NOT A CHILD OF PRIVILEGE, YOU HAD TO FIGHT TO GET INTO THIS BUSINESS, BECAUSE THOSE ARE THE THINGS THAT YOU BRING INTO THE NEWSROOM THAT EFFECT HOW YOU SEE THE STORY.

AND THE TRUTH IS THAT THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS INCREDIBLY DIVERSE, WE ALL KNOW IT.

HAS BEEN SINCE FOREVER.

THE MORE DIVERSE OUR NEWSROOMS ARE, THE BETTER JOURNALISM WE DO.

PERIOD.

IT'S NOT A POLITICAL ISSUE.

AND IT'S ACTUALLY BETTER BECAUSE THEN WE'RE GOING TO HAVE MARKETS TO SELL TO, OR IN THE CASE OF PUBLIC MEDIA, MARKETS THAT WILL WANT TO DONATE TO PUBLIC MEDIA.

QUESTION OF EQUALITY OF THE WORK THAT IS BEING DONE.

MARIA, I COULD TALK FOREVER WITH YOU ABOUT THIS, AS I SAID, IT'S JUST SUCH A MARVELOUS BOOK.

SO MANY MESSAGES, AS YOU SAID, HISTORICAL MEMOIR, ONE OF THE GREAT MESSAGES, BUT I'M OUT OF TIME, AS YOU SAY, MESSAGES DON'T GIVE UP.

DON'T GIVE UP.

ONCE AGAIN, THE BOOK IS TITLED 'ONCE I WAS YOU.'

MARIA, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

IT'S A PLEASURE.

LOOK FORWARD TO TALKING TO YOU AGAIN REAL SOON HOPEFULLY.

THANK YOU, JACK.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

YOU BE WELL.

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA PFLANAGAN.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 38 YEARS, NEW YORK STATE HAS A NEW MUNICIPALITY.

THE TOWN OF PALM TREE.

IT CAME INTO EXISTENCE JANUARY 1st OF 2019, BUT LIKE ANY OTHER BIRTH STORY, IT DID NOT COME WITHOUT CAUSING SIGNIFICANT PAIN.

PALM TREE NEW YO, NEW YORK, IS LATEST IT RATION OF A TINY VILLAGING, BUT TINY REALLY ONLY REFERS TO THE LAND MASS OF THE VILLAGE.

IT IS THE YDYIDDISH-SPEAKING JEWISH COMMUNITY WITH A POPULATION OF OVER 20,000 AND GROWING FAST.

SO, THEY NEEDED MORE SPACE TO BUILD MORE HOUSES.

THE TOWN OF MONROE, OF WHICH CURIOUS JOEL WAS APART OF, EXPRESSED DEEP RESERVATIONS ABOUT ALLOWING THE FAST-GROWING COMMUNITY TO ANNEX ANYMORE LAND.

THIS BOILING POINT OF TENSION IS WHERE THE FILM 'CITY OF JOEL' BEGINS.

LET'S TAKE A LOOK.

IT'S AN ONGOING BITTER TURF WAR.

JUST 50 MILES OF NEW YORK CITY.

IT'S A VILLAGE LITTLE MORE THAN A SQUARE MILE THAT HAS RAPIDLY GROWN IN SIZE TO MORE THAN 20,000 PEOPLE.

CURIOUS JOEL IS A VILLAGE WITHIN THE TOWN OF MONROE.

MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY ORIGINALLY MOVED IN OVER HERE.

THE WHALIFE REVOLVES AROUND FAMILY AND CHILDREN.

GROWING UP, YOU ALWAYS KNEW THAT THE LOCAL PEOPLE DON'T LIKE US.

THERE'S A HIGH DEMAND FOR HOUSING.

A PETITION WAS SUBMITTED FOR SEEKING ANNEXATION.

WE NEED MORE ROOM, BUT THEY'RE JUST NOT GOING TO GIVE US WHAT WE NEED.

THIS ANNEXATION MUST BE STOPPED.

WE NEED TO PROTECT THE SCHOOLS, NOT ONLY FOR THE KIDS, BUT FOR OUR HOME VALUES.

THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING ABOUT OUR LIVES.

WE LIVE THE WORLD OF TODAY.

WE LIVE IT IN A SIGNIFICANT WAY.

THERE HAS BEEN VIOLENCE IN CURIOUS JOEL AGAINST THOSE WHO STEP OUT OF LINE.

I CAN HAVE EMPATHY FOR YOUR WAY OF LIFE.

WHAT ABOUT MINE?

I HAD NO IDEA WHAT A POLITICAL POWER HOUSE THE COMMUNITY IS.

THE TENSION TRANSLATED INTO EXPLEA EX EXPLICIT ANTI-RECEI RESEANTI-SE.

I'M JOINED NOW BY THE FILM'S PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR, JESSE SWEET.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

GREAT TO BE HERE.

SO, I JUST WANT TO ASK, HOW DID YOU EVEN COME ACROSS THIS STORY, BECAUSE IN ALL TRANSPARENCY HERE, I HAVE BEEN COVERING NEW YORK STATE FOR AWHILE AND SO ALSO AS A RESIDENT OF THE HUDSON VALLEY, I WAS VERY FAMILIAR WITH THIS STORY, BUT IT FELT LIKE A HYPER LOCAL THING AND IF YOU WEREN'T REALLY IN THE MID HUDSON REGION, YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE KNOWN WHAT WAS GOING ON.

YEAH, I'VE BEEN IN NEW YORK CITY 20 YEARS NOW AND I HADN'T HEARD ABOUT CURIOUS JOEL BEFORE I STARTED MAKING THIS DOCUMENTARY.

AND I FIRST GOT INTERESTED IN THE P TOIC WHEN I MOVED TO CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN, ABOUT 12 YEARS AGO, AND I'M EASTERN EUROPEAN, JEWISH-AMERICAN, ALL FOUR OF MY GRANDPARENTS WERE BORN IN EASTERN EUROPE AND THERE'S A LARGE COMMUNITY HERE, WHICH IS A HASIDIC SECT.

ON THE ONE HAND, I FELT THE SOLIDARITY, LIKE, THESE ARE MY PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, THE -- WE SORT OF COME FROM THE SAME VILLAGES AND HAVE SPLIT OFF AND ON THE OTHER HAND, I FELT LIKE I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND THEM A LOT, AS A SORT OF, YOU KNOW, MORE REFORMED JEWISH PERSON, I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND A LOT OF THE CULTURE, A LOT OF THE GENDER POLITICS, THE THEIR FORM OF JUDAISM, SO, BEING A DOCUMENTARY SOLDIER, I WANTED TO SET OUT FINDING A DOCUMENTARY THAT CAN HELP FIND SOMEONE LIKE ME, WHO IS CURIOUS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS CULTURE, INTO IT.

AND I THOUGHT A GOOD ENTRY POINT WOULD BE PEOPLE THAT LEFT THE COMMUNITY.

BUT AFTER I SPENT A LITTLE TIME WITH SOME OF THEM, I WAS MORE INTERESTED IN THE PEOPLE WHO STAYED.

AND SO THROUGH THE PEOPLE I INITIALLY MET IN BROOKLYN, SOME OF WHOM HAD LEFT, I STARTED LEARNING ABOUT CURIOUS JOEL, BECAUSE SOME OF THEM HAD LEFT CURIOUS JOEL AND IT STRUCK ME AS A RICH MATERIAL FOR DOCUMENTARY BECAUSE AS A WAY TO EXPLORE HASIDIC IDENTITY IN THE 21st CENTESSE CENTURY.

THEY HAVE AN INTERPRETATION OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HASIDIC JEWISH PERSON.

I THOUGHT THAT WOULD BE A GREAT SORT OF, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A HASIDIC PERSON IN THIS DAY AND AGE DOCUMENTARY AND THEN I SAW THE TENSION BREWING, NOT BREWING, BY THE TIME I GOT THERE, IT WAS SORT OF OUT IN PLAIN SIGHT AND REALIZED THAT COULD BE A GOOD WAY TO EXPLORE SOME OF THE, YOU KNOW, TO GIVE A NARRATIVE DRIVE TO THE FILM, SO THAT THERE WOULD BE THIS, YOU KNOW, TICKING CLOCK OF WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN AND THAT COULD SORT OF BRING IN SOME OF THE ISSUES OF IDENTITY, CULTURE, RELIGION AND SO THAT'S HOW I ENDED UP THERE.

WELL, YOU SORT OF TOUCHED ON IT WHEN YOU EVEN SORT OF COMPARED THAT, YOU KNOW, LIVING IN NEW YORK CITY IN CROWN HEIGHTS, WHERE, AS YOU SAID, THE COMMUNITY IS, WHILE THEY ARE ALSO A COMMUNITY WITHIN A LARGER COMMUNITY, YOU HAVE THAT, AS WELL, WITH KCURIOUS JOEL, EXCEP IT'S -- THERE WAS SIGNIFICANT TENSION.

SO, I TRIED TO LAY IT OUT A LITTLE BIT IN THE INTRO, WITH THE ISSUE OF LAND, WHICH IS REALLY WHAT THIS CAME DOWN TO, WAS LAND USE AND WHO WAS GOING TO BE ABLE TO USE ADDITIONAL LAND, COUPLE HUNDRED ACRES, TO BUILD MORE HOUSING BUT THERE WAS A REAL POINT OF TENSION BETWEEN THE TOWN OF MONROE AND THE VILLAGE OF CURIOUS JOEL.

YEAH, AND I MEAN, I THINK, YOU KNOW, OBVIOUSLY WE GET INTO THIS IN THE FILM, SO, WE'VE SORT OF TEASED IT OUT THERE, BUT YOU KNOW, PART OF IT IS THE BACK STORY.

I THINK YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT, WHICH IS THAT --

OF COURSE.

WHICH IS CITY OF JOEL REFERS TO JOEL TITLEBAUM, ONE OF THE FEW -- SO, WITHIN -- THERE ARE DIFFERENT SECTS IN THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY AND THEY ARE NAMED AFTER THE VILLAGES WHERE THEY WERE CREATED AND EACH ONE HAS A SPIRITUAL LEADER OF THAT COMMUNITY, AND SO MOST OF THEM WERE KILLED DURING THE HOLOCAUST.

SO JOEL WAS ONE OF THE FEW TO SURVIVE AND HE WENT TO ISRAEL AND THEN BROOKLYN AND WILLIAMSBURG AND TEMPIT OPE TEMPLE.

AND IT WAS A SOURCE OF PRIDE THAT HE COULD REJUVENATE HASIDIC PRACTICES IN THE UNITED STATES.

AND PRIOR TO THAT -- SO, MY ANCESTORS WERE LIKE THIS.

I THINK THERE WAS AN INITIAL WAVE OF JEWISH PEOPLE WHO EMIGRATED AND THEN SOME PEOPLE WHO STAYED THOUGHT, YOU CAN'T REALLY BE JEWISH IN AMERICA THERE'S TOO MUCH CAPITALISM, YOU GET SEDUCED BY THE BRIGHT LIGHTS, THE MONEY, AND SO, THERE WAS A RESISTANCE TO COMING, SO JOEL TITLEBAUM, I THINK, FELT LIKE, AFTER HE CREATED A COMMUNITY IN BROOKLYN, FELT LIKE -- THERE'S A LITTLE THAT WAS TRUE, THAT WE SHOULD CREATE MORE OF AN OLD WORLD TYPE COMMUNITY WHERE WE CAN, YOU KNOW, HAVE EVERYTHING REVOLVE AROUND RELIGION AND NOT WORRY ABOUT THE OUTSIDE INFLUENCES OF DAILY LIFE AND WHAT PEOPLE ARE EXPOSED TO ON SIDEWALKS.

THEY HAD LAND DEALS FALL THROUGH WHEN PEOPLE FOUND OUT THEY WERE HASIDIC.

THEY WERE IN STATEN ISLAND, NEW JERSEY, SO, BEFORE THEY GET UP THERE, THERE'S A CERTAIN SENSE THAT THEY WEREN'T WANTED IN PLACES AND I THINK THEY VERY MUCH SAW IT AS, WE HAVE TO BE PROACTIVE AND CREATE ENOUGH SPACE WHERE WE CAN GROW AND SO I THINK THAT'S THEIR -- PART OF THE -- I MEAN, IT'S A COMPLICATED GROUP, THERE'S 20,000 PEOPLE, THERE'S 20,000 DIFFERENT OPINIONS, BUT I THINK ONE COMMON THING IS, WE NEED TO, YOU KNOW, GET AHEAD OF CREATING A PLACE WHERE WE CAN HAVE ENOUGH SPACE TO CONTINUE TO GROW, WHICH IS PART OF OUR, YOU KNOW, BEING A GOOD MEMBER OF THE SECT.

ON THE OTHER HAND, I FELT LIKE THERE WERE PEOPLE WHO SAW THIS GROUP COME IN IN THE 1970s AND THEY WERE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE AT FIRST WHO DIDN'T LOOK LIKE THEM, WHO DIDN'T TALK LIKE THEM AND FELT LIKE THERE'S SOME, YOU KNOW, THAT THEY AND THIS IS NOT MY VIEW, BUT I THINK -- AND CERTAINLY NOT A VIEW OFFER PEOPLE, BUT THESE PEOPLE AREN'T OUR COMMUNITY AND THEY ARE KIND OF TAKING IT OVER.

SO, I THINK THERE WAS A FEAR FROM SOME PEOPLE IN MONROE THAT THEIR WAY OF LIFE WAS BEING ERODED BY HAVING THIS FAST-GROWING COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE THAT ARE VERY DIFFERENT THAN THEM.

SO, THERE'S THIS KIND OF DEEP PSYCHOLOGICAL ANXIETY BETWEEN THE TWO GROUPS THAT, AS YOU POINT OUT, KIND OF, BEFORE EVEN THE ANNEXATION BEGINS, IS THERE AND THEN THE ANNEXATION IS SORT OF A FLASH POINT FOR IT.

IT IS, AND IT'S -- IT'S VERY INTERESTING, BECAUSE AS YOU EXPLORE WHERE THESE TWO GROUPS ARE COMING FROM, FIRST OF ALL, THE FILM TAKES, FROM WHAT I COULD TELL, GREAT PAINS TO NOT TAKE EITHER SIDE, BUT SIMPLY TO LAY OUT WHERE BOTH GROUPS WERE COMING FROM.

BUT CONSIDERING THAT EVERYONE LIVES, THEORETICALLY, WITHIN THE SAME TOWN, OR WITHIN THE SAME AREA, THERE WAS VERY LITTLE INTERACTION, SO, THERE WAS -- EVERYTHING SEEMED TO BE RIFE WITH MISUNDERSTANDINGS OR MISINTERPRETATIONS OR IT SEEMED TO BE THE KIND OF BREEDING GROUND TO CREATE THE KIND OF TENSION THAT YOU ULTIMATELY SEE AT THIS TOWN HALL MEETING.

YEAH, AND I THINK IT IS A CASE WHERE THERE'S -- WITHIN THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY UP THERE, AND I THINK THIS IS ONE THING THAT'S DIFFERENT FROM BROOKLYN, I THINK IT'S MORE INSULAR.

AND I THINK THAT'S A BIT OF A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, BECAUSE IT GIVES THEM STRENGTH.

BECAUSE THEY DO WANT TO, YOU KNOW, KEEP OUT ASPECTS OF CULTURE THAT THEY DON'T AGREE WITH.

I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF PARTS OF MAINSTREAM CULTURE, IF I WAS A PARENT, OH, MY GOD, MY KID IS EXPOSED TO THAT, BUT BY SORT OF BANDING TOGETHER AND CREATING A POCKET WHERE IT'S A PRETTY HOME MOJ NOUS POPULATION, THAT THEY'RE ONLY GOING TO EXPOSE THEMSELVES TO THE RELIGIOUS TEACHINGS AND CULTURE THEY WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO BE EXPOSED TO.

AND IT ALLOWS THEM TO REALLY THRIVE IN A LOT OF WAYS.

I MEAN, IT'S ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING COMMUNITIES IN THE UNITED STATES.

I BELIEVE IT HAS THE HIGHEST BIRTHRATE AND ONE OF THE YOUNGEST POPULATIONS, SO, IT'S THRIVING IN A LOT OF WAYS, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, IT IS CUT OFF FROM THEIR CLOSE NEIGHBORS AND SO I THINK THAT IS RIFE WHEN -- I THINK IF THIS DISCUSSION ABOUT ANNEXATION HAD BEEN WITH A LITTLE MORE OPEN HANDED WAY FROM BOTH SIDES BEGAN, THEY COULD HAVE NOT GONE TO THE WAR FOOTING THEY DID, BUT BECAUSE THEY WERE -- YOU HAD THIS INSULAR GROUP AND THE GROUP IN MONROE, SOME OF WHOM, YOU KNOW, JUST DIDN'T UNDERSTAND THEM, SOME OF THEM MIGHT HAVE BEEN BIASED AGAINST THEM, THAT IT IS A SITUATION WHERE A SMALL MISUNDERSTANDING INSTANTLY GOES TO DEEP ESCALATION.

COMPLETELY, YES.

AND THE FILM DOES ALSO ADDRESS, BECAUSE THERE WERE ACCUSATIONS THROUGHOUT THIS DEBATE BEFORE THE TOWN CAME TO A DECISION AND THAT WAS, YOU KNOW, ACCUSATIONS OF ANTI-SEMITISM AND THAT, YOU KNOW, THERE WERE VOICES, SOME VERY UGLY VOICES, COMING OUT OF THE MONROE COMMUNITY, AS WELL.

AND THAT IS ALSO ADDRESSED IN THE FILM.

YEAH, AND IT'S A COMPLICATED THING, BECAUSE THERE ARE CERTAINLY VOICES OF ANTI- REC SEMITISM, AND I THINK THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY HEARS THAT, AND HOW COULD THEY NOT?

THEY'RE CONDITIONED TO REALIZE THAT THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIKE JEWISH PEOPLE, WHO ARE THEIR NEIGHBORS.

AND SO IT BECOMES HARD TO DISTINGUISH, ONCE THAT KIND OF -- THERE'S SOME ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE DEBATE.

IT'S HARD TO DISTINGUISH, IS SOMEONE BEING ANTI-SEMITIC OR ARE THEY REALLY CONCERNED WITH DENSITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT AND THINGS LIKE THAT?

BECAUSE SOME OF THOSE TERMS WOULD BE DOG-WHISTLED FOR PEOPLE WHO MIGHT WANT TO BE AN ANTI-SEMITIC.

AND CERTAINLY, YOU KNOW, I THINK THE MAIN CHARACTERS WHO WE FOCUSED ON WHO WERE IN THE OPPOSITION WERE NOT ANTI-SEMITIC BUT THEIR LANGUAGE COULD SOMETIMES GET COOPTED BY PEOPLE WHO WERE ANTI-SEMITIC.

AND SO IT BECOMES A VERY -- WHEN YOU HAVE TWO GROUPS WHO AREN'T TALKING TO EACH OTHER TO BEGIN WITH, WITH THE HASIDIC PEOPLE AND THEIR NEIGHBORS, WHEN THERE ARE SOMEANTI-SEMITISM, IT BECOMES EASY TO THINK IT'S ALL ANTI-SEMITISM.

WELL, UNFORTUNATELY, WE'VE COME TO THE END OF OUR TIME, BUT I REALLY CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS FILM ENOUGH.

IT HAS, OF COURSE, AIRED, 'CITY OF JOEL' HAS AIRED ON PBS AND YOU CAN STREAM IT ON AMAZON PRIME.

SO, JESSE, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TELLING THIS INCREDIBLY COMPLICATED, NUANCED STORY WITH, I THINK, RESPECT AND DIGNITY TO BOTH SIDES.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

GREAT TO BE HERE.

ABSOLUTELY.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

BERNARD AND DENISE SCHWARTZ, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG.

AND BY JANET PRINDLE SEIDLER, JODY AND JOHN ARNHOLD, CHERYL AND PHILIP MILSTEIN FAMILY, JUDY AND JOSH WESTON, DR. ROBERT C.

AND TINA SOHN FOUNDATION.

©2021 WNET. All Rights Reserved. 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019

WNET is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax ID: 26-2810489