When fifty years ago the 1964-65 World's Fair opened in Flushing Meadow Park, critics did not love it, says Joseph Tirella, author of Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America. These critics, who called it backward and middlebrow, missed the point:
It wasn’t about fancy pavilions or gee-whiz technology. By introducing the country to cultures beyond Western Europe, the World’s Fair laid the groundwork for the demographic revolution that would transform America in subsequent decades.
Although the fair exhibited Michelangelo’s “La Pietà" on loan from the Vatican (thanks, guys) as well as many American exhibits (such as Disney's “It’s a Small World” ride), due to a boycott by most Western European countries, Mr. Tirella writes that "Flushing Meadow was populated by the rest: Africa and Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean, and Central and South America all came to Queens, bringing with them their peoples, their languages and their cultures." In 1965, the same month the fair closed, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the 1965 Immigration Act, which opened up the US to millions and helped create the diverse ethnic groups seen today in Queens and the US.
The NY Times has published recollections by some of the fifty-one million fairgoers, and also detailed some the activism and protests that occurred at the fair. The Brian Lehrer Show discussed the fair's significance (Belgian waffles and color TV!). And in case you're curious, here according to General Motors Futurama 2 ride, is what the future--"a world of awesome beauty"--was supposed to look like (perhaps still will):