Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ellis Island

One of our favorite stops during our trip to New York City was our visit to Ellis Island. As we celebrated Independence Day this week I couldn’t help but think about that visit. And the 300 New York pictures I still have to sort and edit. But that’s a worry for another day. Anyway, it just seemed like a good opportunity to encourage you to see Ellis Island if you have never been there. I put it on my list of top ten things all Americans should see before they die, and I think it’s pretty dadgum interesting for folks who are not from the U.S., especially if they have family who immigrated here many years ago.

Hubby and I love history and all things old, so we were both really fascinated by the whole Ellis Island experience. From the ferry/train station where the tours begin:

To the island itself.

There are actually several buildings on Ellis Island, including some hospital barracks that have yet to be restored. Those are the buildings I most wanted to photograph, but I didn’t feel like getting arrested so I stuck to the program. The main building is the only one open to the public, and inside are reminders everywhere of the people who journeyed to this country to start a new life. From the trunks:

To the railroad schedules:

And the shoes of children from around the world:

There are all kinds of mementos that vividly illustrate the past purpose of that facility, and they are displayed in a way that gives you plenty of history and context about what went on there.

Right down to the dorm-like barracks where people stayed overnight.

And as you stand in the Great Hall, look down on an area once crowded with people being herded through the immigration process and read their handwritten accounts of coming to America you start to get a feel for what it must have been like to be an immigrant.

To have little more than a dream and to pack up a small amount of belongings and haul your family across the sea to a place you’ve never seen in order to start a brand new life where you don’t speak the language. To endure seasickness. To stand in line like cattle and be poked, prodded, examined and quizzed about your plans. To start with nothing in a land where you don’t speak the language and to find a job, a place to live and security. Honestly, how many of us would be that brave? As I looked out over that balcony I tried to imagine what it might be like to be about eight months pregnant, trying to carry a heavy trunk and hang onto a child’s hand while waiting for hours to see if you and your husband would be admitted into the country or sent back home. It’s difficult to imagine what some folks endured to come here.

And as you read the statistics and realize how all of us, except for those with Native American heritage, hail from immigrants, you start to consider your opinions on immigration and seriously think about how we often view people who clamor to be a part of the U.S. today. We are a nation built on immigrants and yet we are very eager to slam the door in the face of those who seek what generations before us received. Visiting Ellis Island takes what can be a very black and white issue for many of us and smudges it into a very hazy gray. It makes you think, and it makes you appreciate what you have. We are blessed to live in a wonderful country, and we should be very grateful for those who had the courage and vision to bring us here. Ellis Island does a great job of teaching us that, so I encourage you to go. Go and spend plenty of time there. Don’t rush. Read the material next to the exhibits. Examine the photographs and absorb the history. Oh, and the ferry ride ain’t bad either.


Jan n Jer said...

This is one of the places on my bucket list. I have been to NYC many times and have yet to go to Ellis Island. WE are all a big melting pot and sometimes forget how our forefathers got here.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post..outstanding. Dee from Tennessee