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Sunday, June 18, 2023
12:00 PM - 4:00 PM EDT

Eldridge Street between Division & Canal Streets

In its 22nd year, the Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Street Festival is a celebration of the diverse cultures that make up our Lower East Side and Chinatown community. Experience the spirit of this ever-changing neighborhood and the immigrant experience in New York City today through music, dance, crafts, cultural practices, foodways, and more!

​The Lower East Side on the island of Manhattan is a neighborhood brimming with history. Historically, the “Lower East Side” referred to the area alongside the East River from roughly the Manhattan Bridge/Canal Street up to 14th, and Broadway on the west. Today, those boundaries have expanded and shifted, much like the communities who called "the LES" side home.

We are so pleased to be partnering with our Lower East Side neighbors including:

Loisaida, Henry Street Settlement, and Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum. 

The Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival is supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council; and the Jewish Community Youth Foundation.

The Museum will be closed to visitors during the festival.

Image of a Chinese lion dancing puppet in front of the Museum at Eldridge Street facade.

12 - 2PM

Lion Dancing from New York Chinese Cultural Center

Cantonese Opera with Yan Wu "Camille" Shuang

Puerto Rican parranda/comparsa plenera with Los Pleneros de la 21

Frank London's Klezmer All Stars

2 - 4PM

Yiddish Singing Trio with The Mamales

Lion Dancing with New York Chinese Cultural Center

String Duet with Jake Shulman-Ment and Raffi Boden

Slam Poetry with Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Puerto Rican and Afro-Latino Salsa with Lulada Club

A little boy looking at a traditional Puerto Rican vejigante mask.
Puerto Rican flag.


In 1898, after the United States took control of Puerto Rico following the Spanish American War, American companies gained control over all facets of the island’s economy. By the 1930s decades of exploitation had sent the sugar, coffee, needlework, tobacco and cigar industries into freefall. Beginning in 1947, a series of economic projects known as Operation Bootstrap were implemented by the United States’ government to boost the island’s economy. It was hoped that expansion of industry would absorb all the extra workers who had lost agricultural jobs. This didn’t happen. Between 1950 and 1960, 500,000 individuals migrated from Puerto Rico to the United States mainland (around 20% of the island’s population). While East Harlem in New York had previously housed the largest enclave of Puerto Ricans between the two world wars, large numbers of Puerto Ricans began to settle in the Lower East Side as they searched for economic opportunity. Loisada--the Spanish-phonetic spelling of Lower East Side, coined by poet, playwright, and activist Bimbo Rivas–grew into a thriving Puerto Rican diasporic community. Today, Loisaida is the home to many iconic Puerto Rican cultural institutions, including the Nuyorican Poets Café, founded by poet and scholar Miguel Algarín (which is home of the Nuyorican poetry and literary movement); The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, and the Loisaida Center.

Salsa and its Origins

​Though the music we call “salsa” falls into the category of popular music available on recordings worldwide, the genres that comprise its foundation are rooted in traditional forms of music. Salsa is based on the Cuban sound that emerged in the late 19th century in the eastern province of Cuba called Oriente. It used bongó, maracas, and clave sticks; in the 1930s congas and timbales were added. This basic instrumentation laid the framework for many salsa bands today. Many of the rhythms that make up Afro-Cuban songs are forms of rumba including the guaguanco and yambú which arose out of music played by Havana dockworkers, rooted in Bantu-Congo drumming and dance. Lyrically, salsa owes a debt to la décima. This verse form originated in the Iberian Peninsula in 1591, when court poet Vicente Espinel institutionalized the verse form of ten octosyllabic lines.). The décima spread throughout Latin America and was used in literary and oral sources. In some places, such as Puerto Rico and Cuba, these lines were usually improvised in performances called controversias by trovadores (troubadours). Salsa retains some of this lyric verse form and the salsa vocalists who can improvise their verses are called soneros (or in the case of Celia Cruz, sonera).


Plena Music

Plena arose in Puerto Rico in the early part of the 20th century as Puerto Rican farmers and formerly enslaved peoples migrated to the cities, and immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean such as St. Kitts, Jamaica, and St. Thomas arrived in Puerto Rico. The Ponce neighborhood of Joya de Castillo was where one of plena’s early composers, Joselino “Bum Bum” Oppenheimer, an ox plow driver, would improvise songs to the cadence of his oxen’s footsteps. Plena came to be known as el periódico cantado (the sung newspaper) because it conveys important issues or events and comments on everyday life. In New York City, plena began to gain popularity in the 1920s as the Puerto Rican community was growing in Harlem and the city was becoming the world’s capital for the music recording industry. In this era, many plenas were recorded, leading to a quasi-“golden era.” Groups like Canario y su Grupo and Los Reyes de la Plena recorded many songs which commented on life in their new metropolis. However, as the mambo era grew, plena lost much of its commercial viability. Today, plena (along with the other Afro-Puerto Rican genre, bomba), has been enjoying a renaissance thanks to a new generation of musicians reclaiming the music while innovating and invigorating the tradition.

Bomba Drumming

​The Puerto Rican bomba tradition is the oldest of Puerto Rico’s Afro-based musical traditions, with roots in West Africa. Bomba developed in the context of colonial plantation life when enslaved Africans participated in dances (bailes) to mark days off, baptisms, and marriages. The drums used in bomba are called barriles. A bomba group requires at least two or three barriles, a cua (a pair of sticks struck upon a hard surface), and a single maraca. The barriles that keep the constant rhythm are called the buleadores, or seguidores, while the drum that interacts with the dancers when they perform their piquetes (steps), is called the primo or subidor. During the dance, the dancer creates a dialogue with the drummer of the subidor, by getting the drummer to respond to her dance movements with repiques or toques (drum strokes).



Plena is much more melodic than bomba, but it too has drums as its core instrument. The hand-held frame drums are called panderetas (similar to jingle-less tambourines). Handheld frame drums are among the oldest known musical instruments. The frame drum is a familiar component of shamanistic traditions in Asia and North America, where the practitioners tend to play the drumhead with a stick or other implement. In the Mediterranean traditions, the drums were played with bare hands—and this is where the pandereta has its origins. For a complete traditional plena ensemble at least three panderetas are needed—the lead drum called the requinto, which accents the melody and takes solos; the punto de clave (or punteador), the middle drum in pitch and tonality; and the largest drum, known as the fundador or seguidora which keeps the rhythmic foundation. Also essential to the ensemble is the scraped gourd called a guicharo or guiro.

Vejigante Masks

Carnival, which is derived from the Latin “farewell to the flesh,” is a time for great celebration ahead of the period of Lent, which is a time of abstinence and spirituality. Carnival’s antecedents include pagan celebrations honoring the coming of spring and the Roman Lupercalia, honoring the god of fertility. The Catholic Church slowly appropriated and transformed many of these practices during late antiquity. Though there are many characters and figures which are portrayed at Carnival, it is the vejigante that attracts everyone’s attention. The masks are made of papier maché and have an animal-like appearance with many horns and monstrous teeth. Though scary in appearance, the maskers are clowns and mischief-makers – dancing, singing and chasing participants. The vejigantes dance in the processions to the Afro-Puerto Rican musical genres of bomba and plena.

Hands holding tile pieces of a Chinese mahjong set. The table is green and there are tiles strewn over the table.
A Chinese paper cutting of a rabbit. This is the Year of the Rabbit.


Manhattan's Chinatown (one of New York City’s oldest) is generally understood to be the two square miles of shops, restaurants, and tenement apartments demarcated by Mott and Worth Street on the southwest side and Grand and Canal Street on the northeast, with a population of about 90,000 residents. Historically, the neighborhood was a place of necessity for Chinese people arriving on the eastern shores of America: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, coming on the heels of decades of rising anti-Chinese sentiments and violence (particularly in California) grounded in xenophobia, prohibited new immigration from China. Originally intended to last ten years, the Act was renewed and made permanent in 1902, only being fully repealed in 1943. Consequently, many Chinese families already in the States moved East, centering themselves in the Lower East Side near the other major port of entry into the country—Ellis Island. By the turn of the century, the Lower East Side was well-known as a diverse and immigrant-friendly neighborhood, with (crowded) housing available in tenement buildings and plentiful—if low-wage—work. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lifted many de facto restrictions that had prevented significant Chinese immigration, even following the repeal of the Exclusion Act. Subsequently, the population began to grow rapidly, which did not slow until the early 2000s. 

Chinatown today faces a crisis of displacement and flux as shophouses and residences alike give way to banks and hotels. More and more young professionals without connection to the area have moved in as they become the only ones able to afford rising rents, as Chinatown’s long-time locals reside in the last of the neglected apartments and old city projects along the sprawling edges of the East River. Between 2000 and 2010, the population of new white and wealthier residents grew by nearly 50 percent.


Still, there are many exciting revitalization and preservation campaigns underway—some tied to organizations and commissions, and some led by longtime residents and their descendants. Wing on Wo & Co., thought to be the oldest continuously-run business in Chinatown, transitioned into the hands of Mei Lum, the second-youngest grandchild of the family who established the store back in the 1890s. Lum has not only worked to keep Wing on Wo’s doors open, but also founded the W.O.W Project, a “queer and trans-led community effort to grow and protect Chinatown’s creative culture in a time of rapid change.” 


​According to folklore, the great Chinese philosopher Confucius developed mahjong around 500 B.C.E. and popularized it in the various provinces he visited as a teacher. In actuality, mahjong developed in the 19th century, but given its revered status in Chinese history, it is no surprise that mahjong is the game of choice for many elders in the community. Mahjong was introduced to the United States in the 1920s and became particularly popular among Jewish women—a phenomenon that continues today. Social clubs organize around mahjong and the games can often be quite competitive and involve bets. Serious players even have superstitions about picking the right seat or wearing a lucky trinket. The rules are complex and have many regional variations. A typical game is played with four players, and involves skill, strategy, calculation, and some luck.

Folk & Traditional Chinese Music


For thousands of years, music in China was understood as a manifestation of nature and was often played to counteract supernatural forces, evoke harmony, and calm the temperaments. In rural China, music is an integral part of life—a vehicle for worship, indispensable in the ceremony and entertainment that mark life-cycle events and seasonal celebrations. The make and effects of Chinese instruments are associated with human attributes—for example, the yangqin (hammered dulcimer) is thought to be light and crisp and elevating for the spirit while the erhu (two-stringed fiddle) is associated with the gang (steely) character of the Monguls (but can also be soft and mournful). The modern Chinese orchestra is composed of instrumental groups including the xianyue (strings), guanyue (winds), and the percussion group comprising ban (clappers), datonggu (barrel drum), naoba (cymbals), yiyunluo (small suspended gongs) and the muyu, or wooden fish (a hollow wooden-slit round drum that is shaped like the mouth of a fish). The Chinese orchestra is distinguished by the tanbo group, which refers to a wide range of plucked-stringed instruments including the pipa (classical lute), zheng (harp), liuqin (willow guitar), yueqin (moon guitar), ruan (mid or low bass guitar), and the percussive hammered dulcimer or yangqin. Chinese wind instruments are subdivided into guanzi (reed oboes) and dizi (bamboo flutes). From public squares to great music halls, Chinese musical instruments have become quite visible in urban settings around the world. Chinese music as played in small ensembles today remains true to tradition and is an essential part of dance and theater performances including regional operas, stylized martial arts and acrobatics.

Cantonese Opera

Out of the more than 300 operatic styles in China, Beijing-style or Peking Opera is perhaps best known (thanks to its special status as the official theater of China); indeed, the bold painted Beijing opera mask is now an unmistakable symbol of Chinese theater around the world. But Cantonese opera (originating in the southeastern Guangdong Province) was what Chinese immigrants brought with them to the Lower East Side. As early as 1852, communities began sponsoring visits from traveling Cantonese opera groups and helping to establish permanent theaters. The first Chinese theater in New York’s Chinatown opened at 5 Doyers Street in 1883.

Cantonese opera shares much in common with other operatic styles from the Southern regions and provinces in China (music, vocal performance, martial arts demonstrations, acrobatics, highly elaborate face paint, and intricate costume design), and frequently elaborates on themes found throughout the Chinese operatic tradition (familial loyalty, fidelity, romantic love, and patriotism). Shanghai emerged as an early hub for Cantonese opera in the region during the 1800s, but during the 1900s, as Hong Kong’s population swelled under British colonial control, the style planted firm roots on the peninsula and surrounding islands. 

According to the New York Historical Society, the Doyers street theater hosted a benefit performance for the Jewish victims of the Kishinev pogrom in Russia in 1903. So many people showed up for the first night’s performance that they ultimately gave three consecutive performances. Raising $280 for the Kishinev Jews, the night ended with a banquet at the Chinese Delmonico Restaurant, located at 24 Pell Street.

The Chinese Musical and Theater Association was founded in 1931 in New York City, during what constituted the “golden age” of Cantonese opera in the United States. At the peak of interest, theaters put on close to 250 performances a year. The Association remains active in the new millennium, though their physical location closed in 2018. Today, the Doyers street theater has been restored and converted into a multi use space containing celebrated restaurant Chinese Tuxedo, serving mostly Cantonese-style fare with a contemporary Lower East side twist. Cantonese opera continues to find audiences around the globe. Hong Kong remains a hub of revitalized Cantonese opera, imagined for new generations of patrons while maintaining the themes and expressions that have entranced devotees of the medium for centuries.

Shufa: Chinese Calligraphy

​The term shufa means the way, method, law of writing. Traditionally, the Chinese written word (character) is revered particularly when it comes to characters that stand for people’s names, cosmic elements (sky, earth, water), and auspicious incantations; here the characters themselves are thought to possess intrinsic energy and presence which are brought into being simply in the act of being written. Chinese calligraphy is practiced with a water-based ink on quick-drying rice paper. The idea is to bring a character to life in one breath, or with a single deliberation of one’s brush. In shufa, there is no crossing out or going back on a stroke to touch up; thus, Chinese calligraphy is often equated with kungfu (especially, the soft form of taichi or the musical arts) where mastery comes from a perfect synthesis of mental and body energy. A calligrapher may also express different moods and emotions through different styles such as zhiti (character form), lishu, associated with clarity and order, zhuanshu (an ancient script), kaishu (the modern) and so on.

Southern Lion Dance

The Southern lion dance is easily recognizable for its colorful large head with big bulging eyes, some furry trimmings, and a wide flapping tongue with whiskers. This paper- maché head is held by one person – the head dancer – while its scaly tail made of light fabric is just long enough for a second dancer hunched under it behind and holding on to the waistband of the head dancert. Unlike its Northern (much heavier-set) counterpart (the jingshi, or Beijing lion),the Southern lion is lighter weight and its performance most captivating when the head dancer jumps on the shoulder of the partner behind him and dramatically raises the lion head. Tied closely to the southern kungfu tradition, this lion dance style is characterized by short jerky moves, deliberate stumping and sharp turning and rolling of the head which gives the lion an austere “fighting” posture. The lion dance is rooted in Chinese rituals and festivities; typically the dance along with the loud drumming and clashing of cymbals and gongs is a must-have on weddings or the launch of a business as this mythic creature is believed to usher good luck and ward off evil spirits for the occasion.

Chinese Paper Cutting

Paper was invented in China; so, too, was using paper as a form of artistic expression. Precise origins are difficult to pinpoint, but historians believe that Chinese paper cutting may have emerged concurrently with paper as a mass-produced medium in the second century. Folk artisans would have been familiar with cutting negative space patterns from other materials, but paper’s affordability would have allowed for greater creative experimentation. As paper cutting spread across China (and beyond), different communities nurtured different styles and techniques. As many people use paper cuts to decorate windows, doors, and entranceways, they have often been colloquially referred to as chuang hua or “window flowers.”


Perhaps unsurprisingly, red has long been a favored choice for paper cut creations, given red’s many positive associations in Chinese culture. Other colors, however, may be used. Today, artists utilize scissors or knives to shape and form their pieces, which hews closely to historical methods for achieving paper cut designs.


According to Ling Tang, the artist paper-cutting for this year’s festival, paper cutting remains a popular art form that is integral to Chinese culture. “During the Lunar New Year,” she says, “households use paper cuts to decorate their homes. One reason for its popularity is its accessibility; simple tools such as scissors and paper (and experienced artists may use x-acto knives) make it easy for people of all ages and skill levels to participate. Traditionally, paper cutting is considered one of the essential women's craft skills, particularly in rural China. Today, it is still being passed down from generation to generation but with a much wider population. The transmission of knowledge typically takes place within families, communities, and at schools with experienced paper cutting masters.”

A crate filled with traditional seltzer bottles. Next to it are several bottles of Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup. The boys in the background are making egg creams.
Jewish Star.

Jewish Lower East Side

Between 1880 and 1924, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe constituted the dominant culture of the Lower East Side. Between 1880 and 1924, 2.5 million mostly-impoverished Ashkenazi Jews came to the US and nearly 75 percent became residents of the Lower East Side. Many of these immigrants spoke Yiddish, a language developed in the ninth century by Central and Eastern European Jews with a heavily German-based vernacular with elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic, and Romance languages written in the Hebrew alphabet. Many established synagogues, small shops, pushcarts, social clubs and financial-aid societies in their new home in New York.

By 1910, the Lower East Side’s population was well over 500 thousand, with many people living in cramped tenement buildings and working in overcrowded factories. By the 1920s, many Jewish residents began moving to new areas of the city and country. Yet, through the egg creams, pastrami sandwiches, historic synagogues, Yiddish music and stories that thrive here, the Lower East Side continues to hold meaning as a part of American Ashkenazi Jewish identity. In fact, the Jewish population is once again increasing, as young observant families move into the area, attracted by a strong infrastructure of religious, educational, and cultural institutions.

Klezmer Music

​Klezmer music emerged in the 19th century in the Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities of Poland, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. Drawing from Jewish folk and sacred music, Klezmer musicians, known as klezmorim or klezmers, practiced a professional trade that was typically passed down within families. The musicians played for weddings, markets, local dances and other community events. ​Klezmer was immensely popular in the United States in the early part of the 20th century, where it absorbed influences from jazz and popular music of the day. Klezmer’s influence waned after World War II, but the genre was revived in the 1970s by a new generation of Jewish American musicians who sought out and studied with surviving elders. Today, this uniquely Jewish and eclectic form plays a vital role, bringing together generations of Jewish Americans to sing, dance, and celebrate while thrilling audiences of all backgrounds.

Yiddish Song


Much like klezmer, yiddish song and balladry has its roots in Jewish folk and sacred music. According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, “from the earliest American manifestations of Yiddish-language opera and operetta in the 1870s, women played central roles as writers, performers, and organizers… Singers such as Sophie Karp, Regina Prager, Bertha Kalish, Bessie Thomashefsky, Celia and Stella Adler, Jennie Goldstein, Nellie Casman, and Molly Picon drew audiences as headliners and gained fame on both sides of the Atlantic through posters, recordings, film, and sheet music.”

Yiddish music is characterized not just by the usage of the language itself, but also by its themes: as Hebrew has long been known as the loshn-koydesh (sacred tongue), Yiddish is known as the mame-loshn (mother tongue)—the language of the everyday. Many Yiddish songs of the late 19th and early 20th century speak of heartbreak, labor, and love. Mayn Rue Plats (“My Resting Place”) is an exceptional example of the genre:

Don’t look for me where myrtles grow,

You will not find me there, my beloved.

Where lives wither at the machines,

There is my resting place.

Today, Yiddish music continues to inspire and captivate ever-growing audiences, as performers experiment with sound, subject, and performance style. The Mameles, performing at this year’s festival, take their name from a 1938 Yiddish-Polish Molly Picon film, “Mamele.” As a trio, they hope to introduce new generations to the rich history of Yiddish songs.

Yiddish Dance

​Yiddish Dance is the folk dance tradition that developed in tandem with Klezmer music. While there are circle, line and square dance forms, the heart of Yiddish dance is in individual improvisation, where people interact with each other and with the music through expressive styling.​


For hundreds of years, Ashkenazi Jews were part of a diverse tapestry of ethnic communities in Eastern and Central Europe, and their cultural life was rich and vibrant. Dance was an important form of cultural expression and community cohesion for Jews, whether they lived in cities or villages. Interestingly, East European Jews did not only perform dances particular to their own community; much of their dance repertoire had a multi-cultural dimension and included elements from their non-Jewish neighbors. Thus, they knew and performed many cosmopolitan forms and dances from shared territory, including the Polish oberek, Ukrainian kolomeyke, Hungarian czardas, waltzes, and foxtrots. Nevertheless, the Jews of Eastern Europe also practiced unique dances, with a vocabulary of gestures that was highly differentiated from that of their non-Jewish neighbors. These included circle formations such as freylekh, hora and bulgar; the couples’ square dance known as sher; forms tied to wedding rituals, such as the broyges tants (dance of anger and reconciliation); or the mitsve tantse, in which honored guests danced with the bride.

​Among late 19th and early 20th century Jewish immigrants in New York, bulgar and freylekh dance steps became interwoven and hybrid choreographies developed. A number of factors conspired to diminish interest in traditional dance in America. A tightening of immigration laws in the 1920s greatly restricted Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and stopped the regular replenishment of Yiddish speakers and specialists. The trauma of the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel caused the rapidly assimilating and suburbanizing American Jewish population to look toward Israel rather than Europe for a source of ethnic pride and cultural sustenance. 

Paper Cutting

Paper cutting is believed to have originated in ancient China, in the second century. It then spread to Turkey, North Africa, Persia and Eastern and Central Europe. The paper cut became an important Jewish folk art during the 17th to 19th centuries. Because it required only simple and readily available tools such as paper, pencil and knife, paper cutting was available to all. Often used to embellish the commandments in an aesthetic way, papercuts were displayed on the walls of homes and synagogues and served a range of spiritual and ritual purposes to indicate the direction of prayer, as holiday decorations for the Jewish festivals of Shavuot and Simchat Torah, as amulets to ward off the evil eye, to commemorate a yahrzeit (anniversary of a family member’s death), and as calendars for counting the days of the omer between Passover and Shavuot. Papercuts were also used to decorate wedding contracts. Unlike other papercuts that were common in the general population, the Jewish papercut did not feature human subjects or depict daily life. During the first half of the 20th century this tradition nearly disappeared when many of its practitioners were murdered in the Holocaust. However, during the last forty years the art of paper cutting as a means of Jewish expression has been revived.


Sofrut: Hebrew Scribal Arts

​Jewish tradition says when Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, he was taught how to inscribe the letters directly by G-d. He then taught the practice to his students, who in turn taught their students, and in this way the tradition of the sofer, or Hebrew scribe, has been passed down through generations. The scribe plays an important role in Jewish religious life: their responsibilities include the preparation of religious documents such as Torah scrolls, mezuzot scrolls, and tefillin. To be certified they must have a thorough knowledge of the laws, know how to write the letters in the correct form, and approach their work with the proper intention. Part of the certification process is a physical purification at a mikvah (ritual bath). The process of writing and the materials used by scribes have remained constant for thousands of years. Documents are written on parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal; the ink is also prepared in a traditional manner. Many scribes work as inspectors, reviewing religious documents to ensure that they conform to the laws, and repairing them as necessary.

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