Meeting up with friends and family around the world is always so special and incredible. But meeting friends that we met on this trip in another part of the world is also so special and a little disorienting. We got to meet with the Loucases, friends from Bali, in Bowling Green today. It was really surreal.
The Loucases (Michelle, Reb, Smith, and Pepper) had returned from their sabbatical to live in Philadelphia, and from there had driven to NYC to meet us! To see friends in two different parts of the world, neither of which are our home, is something that just popped up out of the unseen blue a few days ago.
We had a big day planned, featuring the 9/11 memorial, the Statue of Liberty, and a trip to Ellis island.
Bowling Green is at the Southern tip of Manhattan, so it was only a short, 15-20 minute walk over to the memorial from there. On the way, we talked about what had happened since we had seen them, past the huge skyscrapers.
After visiting the memorial, which features the two footprints of the World Trade Towers, we hurried over to the docks to board a boat. The ride was about 20 minutes long, the ocean breeze on my face, exchanging puzzling riddles with Smith as the Statue of Liberty came into view. I love the moments when I set my eyes upon something very famous, or very important or symbolic, for the first time.
As we set foot on the dock, Alex mentioned how the Statue of Liberty was, actually, a courtesy of another country. It was true, France had given us the Statue of Liberty. We walked around it, until we proceeded to go on to Ellis Island.
From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, the United States was booming in population. Many people, most from Eastern Europe, were coming to America with hopes of a better life or a better job. And imagine, the people from these desperate parts of East Europe had only heard stories, rumors, myths, of what America was like. And so they embarked on a voyage that took anywhere from a week to a month.
The desperate people on the boats were eating poor quality food, living in very tight living quarters, and clinging to the few items they held dear. Some were journeying to the USA permanently for a better life, others to get a good job and then return home. After so long on these boats, out of the mist they would see the first sign of land, Liberty Island. And on it the Statue of Liberty, welcoming the new immigrants. They would circle the island and then journey to Ellis Island, where they would be proccessed and let into the USA. But from the boat they would be able to see New York, in all of its greatness, with huge buildings and seemingly perfect communities. One immigrant described it as “a dream.”
If I were a person on one of those boats the only thing I would be thinking about would be when I can just get off the boat. Being there for so long, I’d probably be sick of it. Possibly literally, sick because of it.
I would be brought in and my family (if I had one with me) and I would be asked questions such as What is your name? Where are you from? Why do you come to the USA? Last nation of residence? Languages spoken? Are you an anarchist? That last one seems very strange, doesn’t it. Though it is true. If you came to the USA through Ellis island, you would be asked that very same question. Obviously if you answered yes, they would put you aside, but if you answered no, they would also do the same because they don’t expect anyone there to even know what an anarchist is.
After being asked questioned, you would be taken over to the doctor who would examine you, wash you, search you for lice, and do an entire checkup to see if you were healthy enough. One immigrant said that he had to stay on Ellis island for eight whole months (because he was sick before) until he got better and they let him in to the USA.
Ellis Island is often described as an isle of hope/isle of tears. It was a brilliant star–the whole of America was–to many who needed this new land to live and feel safe. But it also produced many tears. An unlucky 2% of the people who arrived were sent away, either because they were too sick or because they were, for example, an anarchist. But with so many people entering the USA, that 2% could sometimes amount to 100 people being denied access every day.
About 45% of all immigrants entering the USA came through Ellis Island. And over the course of the 62 years that it was open, over 12 million people came through. And the total number of immigrants coming to the USA not just through Ellis Island in all? Over 27 million.
We watched a vivid production about the suffering those people went through. journeying from the Baltic Sea to Ellis Island, only to have to go all the way back. Or maybe they didn’t go all the way back. Possibly they had to take another long boat ride to their ultimate destination, which may be Charleston, Pittsburg, or Boston. Hungry children and fierce storms. Instead of going back to Russia, one man rather jumped into the water and drowned.
But as the show ended, the parents with us brought up the topic that there is another side to this story. Around the same time as all this, Manifest Destiny was killing, cheating, and starving many many natives. Why? Because “Americans were destined, by God, to govern the North American continent,” as the European Americans said? In addition to that, they needed space for all these immigrants, and sadly, the natives paid the price.
On Ellis Island today, we got to search up names of two relatives, our great-great grandmothers, who in fact journeyed across the Atlantic, through Ellis island, and were then admitted into the American continent for good.
Below: Ellis Island
Below: Liberty Island