Visit the Ellis Island Immigrant Museum
Ellis Island, immigration, and tracing your family's history
So You Want to be an American, huh?
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip,
That started from many tiny ports, aboard not so tiny ships.
It was never any fun, not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe, as primitive as can be.
I am not talking the popular television show Gilligan's Island, from which this rhyme scheme comes. I am talking about the countless trips made by European immigrants in the latter part of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, to this land of opportunity three thousand miles away: America. They came from places such as Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, and Greece, among others. From the period of 1870-1880, there was mounting trouble in Europe. There was widespread famine, which was only complicated by overpopulation. This soon led to vast unemployment. Young boys, around the same age as some of you reading this article, were taken away by force to join the army to fight in conflicts they did not create. Slovaks, Armenians, and Jews were being persecuted by the police. What was a mother to do? What was a father to do? LEAVE. The perfect environment for change had already been created. Change happened, all right, but not in Europe. What changed was the location of those who suffered under these conditions. A majority of these people came from England, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Austria, and Hungary. Pleas of hope, pleas of faith, and pleas of salvation were not answered from the land where they first came to know life.
Not Me! / New Yorkers are always trying to get one over you
"I came to know life here on this farm, me and my two sons. But after the government came to ask for the lives of my children, so that they might serve them, I decided that this was not the place that I wanted to spend my last days, or make good plans for the future of my children. I violently threw up the floorboards that hid the last of my rubles, and hastily counted it. Ahh! Just enough to make our great escape. So we took the nearest horse to the nearest train to the nearest boat in order to make the journey to this strange and wonderful land I have heard so much about.
Onto a crowded ship my sons and I were crowded, given nothing but a tin bowl and spoon. Hopefully we will all get in. Many are tuned away, families split, and lives shattered. My distant cousin Olga was sent back for she unfortunately contracted an eye disease, trachoma, which many people traveling to the US by way of ship, receive. There is so much despair here, and yet so much hope. So many tears and sorrow, and yet so many smiles. Oh what wonderful vessels of rapid freedom these new steamships have become. One of our passengers died today of malnutrition. Her name was crossed off the manifest (the ship's record book) and her body tossed overboard. We threw flowers into the Atlantic, from the 'hope garden' I planted in the hull of the ship. I never thought the flowers would be used for that purpose.
As the cold wind blows upon my face, I look up at that green lady of Liberty. The thought comes to my mind all too many times, that the thin layer of wool in my jacket plus my cloth gloves are not and were not suitable for such an odyssey. Not long after our approach to Ellis Island, my sons and I are deloused. Jared, my youngest, was sadly blinded in one eye by the chemicals used to delouse. Olga taught me some of the English that she learned, so I knew enough to communicate with the Immigration service. We are examined like so many pieces of new meat. I am summoned to a counter where the first question that was asked of me was how much money did I have!
I find this highly irrelevant, seeing as how the reason for my coming here was to earn a better life. If I have no money, then what? Many were rejected for they came empty-handed; all of their money was spent to afford the trip to America. They were sent back at the government's expense. I look back at many white faces accented by red noses, and cheeks streaked with tears and I am heartbroken. Mothers severed from babies, brother from brother, and sister from sister, for again I say every one did not make it into these gates of freedom, and free enterprise. Even still, I step out for the first time on American soil and repeatedly breathe in the brisk air. I am home."
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Links to Other Dispatches
Stephanie - Taking Freedom Back
Nick - Sojourner's Truth marches on
Daphne -- A couple of aliens and a not-so-grand wizard
Teddy -Reading, writing, and making freedom real
Stephanie - African American Home on the Range
Rebecca-Americans torturing Americans