Ellis Island, Where Past Generations of Us Came First: Everyday Magic, Day 810

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Forest, about to enter the building his great-grandparents passed through to make a life here.

Yesterday, Forest and I went, for the first time, to Ellis Island after a suitably long but fast-moving line for tickets, then security, then the ferry brought us there. Here is the place where my grandmother Molly, fresh from Poland and alone at age nine, landed in the early 1900s, and where my grandpa Dave landed as a young kid, although he had parents and grandparents in tow. All of them fled pogroms and other waves of discrimination against Jews to take their chances on America.

IMG_1074The first floor displays highlighted various waves of discrimination that rained through our history. The second floor was another story (literally). Standing in the great hall, the large registry area, I was blown away by the beauty, vastness, and history of the place. From the basket-weave design of the ceiling to the ornate but functional columns, the place just exhaled a million stories, both of those who passed through here, and those who created this place.

My hair saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island

My hair saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island

I thought about what it must have been like in the first decade of the last century for my maternal grandparents (from Poland and Lithuania), and about 20 years earlier, for my paternal great-grandparents (from Russia and Romania), especially my grandmother. Considering our current news stories on all the kids arriving alone to America, it’s no surprise to find, at Ellis Island, that flinging yourself (or being flung) hundreds or thousands of miles from home to land here is an old American story. This article from Mother Jones that came my way when I got back from Ellis Island affirms such a tradition, most of the children leaving everything and everyone they loved to escape pogroms and other threats, just as we have so many children over the border today, sent here to escape drug-trafficking, enslaved prostitution, and other kinds of deaths.  As the Mother Jones article concludes:

And of course, many of those kids grew up to work tough jobs, start new businesses and create new jobs, and pass significant amounts of wealth down to some of the very folks clamoring to “send ‘em back” today.

Meanwhile, yesterday still reaches us with its hunger and pain, loss and risk, and all else that brought so many of us here today, privileged to live with freedom and opportunity.

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5 responses to “Ellis Island, Where Past Generations of Us Came First: Everyday Magic, Day 810

  1. Thank you for this beautiful reminder of our humanity and compassion. May all who search for sanctuary find it.

  2. Beautiful. I so wish those “haters” could read and understand this. I doubt any of them are “native” to America either.

  3. Your pix of the great hall reminded me of scenes from the recent movie, “The Immigrant” about Catholic Polish sisters who came to Ellis Island in 1921 (with not so fortunate results.) Both my paternal grandparents came through Ellis Island from Denmark.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story, Caryn. Years ago when I was only 13, my family befriended a Jewish couple in Pennsylvania. Mr. Fischoff was incarcerated in several concentration camps but escaped them. He always wore long sleeves, even in the heat of summer, to hide the brand on his arm. He and his wife took me to New York City with them, and I was so impressed. Several times during that visit, he sat me down and said,
    “Cheanie girl, I must tell you something,” and then he would tell me, as only a survivor could, his stories … how he escaped one camp after the other, how Prussian soldiers branded his body, how they beat him for running when they found him, etc., etc., etc. I had never heard stories like that before, and they have imprinted my life perspective and sensitivities forever.
    Thank you, also, for reminding us that the children in transit now are fleeing for similar reasons. They, too, deserve human rights. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that things must really be bad for them to leave their families and homeland.

  5. danielbbentley

    None of my people came through Ellis Island….they all came before it was built….making finding their immigration records real hard to do.