June 28, 2017 / 8:52 PM / 2 years ago

New Yorkers dial into immigrant stories in phone booths

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers and tourists in Times Square can take a trip back in time in repurposed phone booths outfitted with oral histories from the city’s storied immigrant population.

Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi and Times Square Arts introduced the interactive art installation “Once Upon a Place,” which allows people to listen to the stories of immigrants in New York through the receivers of old pay phones that once were a common sight on city streets.

Mojadidi came up with the idea when he learned that the phone booths were being removed.

“I wanted to do sort of an urban project about migration, a storytelling project,” Mojadidi, 47, said on Tuesday when the booths were opened.

“For me, the fact that these phone booths were being removed, I immediately thought about bringing them back and putting a different kind of story into them.”

The artist reworked three phone booths and collected 70 stories from immigrants who now call New York home. Their stories were recorded in English or in their native languages.

Jose Mejia, 22, an immigration rights activist from Mexico, was one of many participants in the project.

“What America means to me is the land of opportunities. It’s a dream come true,” Mejia said in interview, adding that he was just 2 years old when his mother carried him across the U.S. border from Mexico. “Anyone who wants to work here and better their lives can do so here in America.”

Marelisa Morejon, an immigrant from Cuba, decided to step into a booth and listen.

“You can hear different histories,” Morejon said. “It’s very touching.”

The stories can be heard through Sept. 5.

Reporting by Havovi Cooper in New York; Editing by Richard Chang

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