African American Studies
Interviewees: Natasha Lightfoot and Michelle Lightfoot
Interviewers: Brian Purnell
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Natasha and Michelle are sisters and lived in the Bronx for most of their lives. Both were born at St. Luke’s Hospital. Their parents are Jocelyn and William, both fromAntigua. Although the couple dated in Antigua, they did not marry until both had immigrated to theUnited Statesin 1970. Their maternal grandmother taught at schools and was a seamstress from the home and the maternal grandfather was a maechanic and a cab driver. Their paternal grandmother worked as a domestic and their paternal grandfather worked for a newspaper. Before moving to theBronx, their parents lived in the US Virgin Islands for a little. This gave them a chance to begin the naturalization process and earn American dollars. When the couple moved toNew York, their mother worked for the phone company and their father opened up an auto-body shop onthird avenue. He also opened a night club called Quartermoon and mostly Antiguans went there.
The first place the couple lived was onClay Avenue. However, the first house the family lived in was onClark Place, near Grand Concourse. Her father was very friendly toward the Antiguans in their neighborhood and all over theBronx. Frequently many Antiguans the family barely new would show up at parties and their father would warmly welcome them. This neighborhood had many West Indians and was a type of entry port for these new immigrants.
When Natasha was four, the family moved to Seward avenuein Castle Hill. They moved into a co-op called JaimeTowers. Natasha and Michelle do not have vivid memories of the urban decay in their new neighborhood. However, they both remember noting the differences in their neighborhood from their grandmother’s neighborhood on 168th and Webster. The neighborhood in Castle Hill was mostly Black and Puerto Rican. Both attendedSt. JohnVianneySchool, which was a Catholic grade school. Soon after the family moved to Castle Hill, they started attending St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Their father would not attend church every Sunday, rather he would stay at home listening to jazz music and watching TV shows, which had a positive impact on Natasha and Michelle. Every summer while the girls were in school, they went toAntigua.
On page 41, session 2 begins. They discuss their father’s role in the various Antiguan social networks that were established in theBronx. Although he was not a member of any social groups, he was a very strong supporter of the Antiguan Labor Party. He, others supporters in the Bronx, and people back in Antigua would be in constant communication about the issues inAntiguaover labor. The way this communication was maintained was through frequent trips back and forth and sending newspapers, like one called The Outlet. His club served as a convenient meeting space for the organization. One time, he organized a fundraiser there ad the Prime Minister of Antigua attended. In the late 1980’s he decided that he wanted to move back toAntiguaand get involved with more lucrative business opportunities. This proved very hard for the family, but through this he got more involved with ALP leadership. While their father was away inAntigua, their mother tried to keep the family together by pushing the girls academically.
The girls loved living in Castle Hill.JamieTowershad plenty of children their ages so both had many friends. The buildings were also very diverse. The children in the buildings would play many outdoor games like tag, basketball, and jump rope. Many children were members ofKipsBay, a boys and girls club, which had great facilities and was well supervised.
They then begin discussing the rise and influence of hip-hop on their generation. One way they experienced it was through breaking. People were break dancing in their neighborhood and through this they would hear the music and see the dance moves. They also remember a local TV station called The Video Music Box which played hip-hop videos. They also discuss the violence that was occurring at that time over clothing and jewlry. For example, neither the girls nor their half brother were allowed to have a leather jacket because their parents feared they would be killed for it. Their mother was really integral in keeping the girls out of trouble and focused.
Their mother was also the driving force behind their religious practices. She made sure they went t church as often as possible.St.Andrew’s, the Episcopal church they attended, was mostly African-American. As girls, they formed strong bonds with the other young people attending the church through Sunday School and Youth Groups. The church also made a point of celebrating academic achievements, like graduations of any kind. The church was also a great place to network and get young people jobs. For example, the church’s after school program employed some of the church’s youth group members. They also had a sect of Episcopal Church Women, a group their mother was president of. Their discussion continues to list other organizations and social groups within the larger St. Andrew’s congregation that parishioners could be apart of.
They had a very interesting dating experience growing up. No guy could call their house. This was mainly due to their parents concerns over the numerous teen pregnancies happening in theBronxin the 80’s. Natasha however, did not always follow her parents strict rules.
Both Michelle and Natasha went to Spellman for high school. Natasha says that going to Spellman increased her exposure to the West Indian and white populations of theBronx. They interacted with the West Indian students through food and dress and with the white population through their honors classes. The girls were also involved in their marching band’s color guard, one spinning the baton the other the flag.
Lightfoot, Michelle and Natasha. November 10, 2004. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Lightfoot, Natasha and Michelle.mp3 (304598 kB)