I am SO excited to be participating in the #FYPx Expedition and visiting National Parks in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’ve got a really fantastic trip planned and I can’t wait to share it with all of you…especially the historic sites!
In the meantime I’ll be sharing the rest of Back in Time Zone Tour starting with a place I see all the time…and so, for the first time EVER I took the ferry over to Ellis Island.
From the end of the 19th century and into the mid 20th, Ellis Island was the official entry point for immigrants moving to the United States. Their reasons for coming were numerous, and many waves of groups from all over the world poured into the country until the last boat docked in 1954.
Upon arrival, they were subjected to screenings and examinations to determine if they were fit to enter. Those that were cleared went on to establish new lives in their new home, while the less fortunate were sent back to their homelands. The number of these was quite low in comparison to the ones that got to enter, only 2%, and today supposedly 40% of Americans can trace a relative back to Ellis Island.
A visit flows in similar fashion to what a newcomer would have experienced when they stepped foot inside. You start in the busy space of the Baggage Room, a large open area filled with the rumble of visitors speaking in several languages navigating the present day. It’s not too hard to imagine that moment being close to what immigrants heard and made me aware of how confusing it must have been.
Beautifully done exhibits cover each and every group that came through its doors and why they might have left their homeland. Your visit begins with their stories in a room that is reminiscent of a ship’s cargo hold, and as it progresses it begins to look like a dock before becoming a city.
The impressive Registry Room follows next, a massive room decked with two American flags and beautiful sunlight spilling inside. It’s serene today, but it was the epicenter of the immigration process and was once a pretty intimidating maze to navigate. Newcomers were inspected and subjected to a lot of hoops to jump through before being granted the permission to officially enter the US.
Those that were deemed questionable were sent to the rooms upstairs where officials screened the “unsavory” types, including the sick, poor, and/or criminal. Exhibits here detail more of the process.
You then navigate into rooms that explore life after immigration, including items brought over by families, and the story of the island after it ceased to operate. These were especially cool because it added a personal element to the site, something that you don’t quite feel during the other rooms. You’re reminded that these were people in search of something better, and of the lives and families they left behind when coming over. It becomes easier to imagine the struggle of coming over and starting new, and that this place was just a small moment in the bigger story.
Those with a tie to an ancestor that came through Ellis Island can find records of their relative on the ground floor and can make an appointment to work with someone on searching. Finally, your visit ends with an exhibit on modern day immigration and narratives of contemporary newcomers.
This visit made me reflect on my family’s experience and wondering how my generation will preserve those stories for the future. I am proud to firsthand know the strength and bravery of my relatives and the steps they took to create a better life, and also how important it is to be compassionate for the people we don’t know that are building their new lives at this very moment.