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James A (Jim) Cashen

June 27, 2016


Claverack, NY


Recorded by

Jess Holler

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This interview with Jim Cashen as conducted on July 27th, 2016 at Jim Cashen's home, located on The Farm at Miller's Crossing — Jim’s historic family home (now maintained, in part, by his son Chris and his wife as an organic farm) which is referenced in his interview. Jim Cashen has lead many careers, including work as a labor lawyer, labor arbitrator, and in a variety of human services positions, including work with the Catholic Charities of New York, and within and on leadership boards for organizations serving people with disabilities. Jim’s narrative describes his upbringing in Eastchester, New York (in Westchester County), his family’s dynamic, his father’s career in the oil industry, the role of drinking in family culture, his family’s purchase of their farm in Columbia County, New York; and his college and graduate career (at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and at Cornell University Law School in Ithaca, New York) and subsequent life and career in human services. Jim spends much of his interview reflecting on the meaning of being a “do-gooder” and the role that human services work — being of service to and providing for others in need — has played in his life; the way that he and his wife, Meg, has incorporated care for others into their own family life; and the way Jim sees this ethos reflected in the lives, careers and values of his children.

Jim also discusses his thoughts on the origins of some of his beliefs about helping others, and origins of his consciousness about issues of social injustice and inequity, including family influence, influence of his training as a labor lawyer at Cornell, and influence of the street priest movement in the Catholic Church in New York City during the 1960s. Jim speaks to the importance of having created an “open” and “free” household — including he and his family’s many years of hosting adults with development disabilities, war refugees, traveling artists, and others, at their family farm, sometimes for years at a time. Throughout, Jim reflects on the moments where his upbringing did, and did not, influence his views, actions and livelihood throughout his diverse careers and long history of service to others.

This interview may be of interest to those curious about the rise of social justice movements in New York from the 1950s on, and, in particular, to those interested in the cultural life of Westchester County in the 1930s-1940s, the oil industry in New York, labor arbitration and labor law in the 1950s-1960s — and the influence of family/upbringing on views on labor issues, the Catholic Charities and street priests movement in the 1960s-1970s and changes in the Church post-Vatican II, the history of social and human services for people with disabilities in New York, the history of one farm in Columbia County, and the social formation of social awareness around helping others — the field of vocation and life practice Jim refers to this field as “human services” or “doing good” — during the second half of the 20th century.

Interviewer Bio:
Jess Holler

Jess Lamar Reece Holler is a folklorist and oral historian from Columbus, Ohio. Her oral history and applied folklore work has focused on issues at the intersection of personal health, environmental health and justice, and food access and food justice. She has been particularly interested in documenting stories about how people come to connect questions of food, health, and environment in their own lives and through grassroots organizing; and in experiences of home, place, displacement, and place-related trauma, memory and healing. In Summer 2016 — the time this interview was conducted — Jess is working on an oral history project with the Eastwick community in Southwestern Philadelphia around environmental justice, displacement and the multiple attachments of home; and a statewide project documenting the rise of organic and ecological food system in her native Ohio. Via her folklore work, Jess is especially interested in vernacular architecture, art environments and how people envision and construct their own homes, environments, and the communities and practices they hope to cultivate and attract with these spaces.

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This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.

Part of this interview may be played in a radio broadcast or podcast.

Oral history is an iterative process. In keeping with oral history values of anti-fixity, interviewees will have an opportunity to add, annotate and reflect upon their lives and interviews in perpetuity. Talking back to the archive is a form of “shared authority.”

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