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.
The 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.
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.