July 11, 2012 | Portuguese
A lot of languages passed through here.
My niece and nephews are in town from Italy, so today my husband and I took them to Ellis Island. I hadn’t been in 20 years.
Dramatic Cityscape from Boat to Ellis Island
The movie they show at Ellis Island on immigration is inspiring. Many dreams converged on this small snippet of land from 1892 to 1954, resulting in an extraordinarily high hope-to-acre density that one can still feel walking around the island today.
During the movie I had tears in my eyes, and I could hear sniffling throughout the theater. (Men included.)
Almost 12 million immigrants came to the United States through Ellis Island, and nearly half of modern-day Americans are descended from them!
Ellis Island Before It Was Restored
Ellis Island Today
Great Hall, Site of Medical and Legal Inspections
Passports from Everywhere
Passport of Arriving Italian Immigrant
I See Kana, So I Think This Is Japanese
Yet Another Passport. Her Face Moved Me.
Posters for Boats Offering Passage to the U.S.
The Alien Arrivals list from 1903 was fascinating to me.
Alien Arrivals Breakdown, 1903
The picture of it at left is not great (sorry), but at the top of the list, I think it shows 706,113 aliens arriving in New York City that year. The next city for immigrant totals was Baltimore, with 69,541.
Apparently Baltimore was another significant point of entry—I didn’t know/remember that—but that year, three years before three of my grandparents were born, Ellis Island still saw more than ten times the number of immigrants arriving in Baltimore’s harbor.
The cultural displays were amazing in their diversity. “During the early decades of the 20th century,” explained one sign, “the ethnic theatre flourished in school basements, as well as in great halls such as San Francisco’s Washington Square Theatre (Italian) and New York City’s Grand Theatre (Yiddish).” Below left are some programs, many of them from New York.
Ethnic Theater, Much of It in NYC
Americanization Schools: Promoting Assimilation
The poster above right had a clear perspective. “Keep America Great” balanced on the page with “Learn the Language”…I can’t disagree that it is important to learn your adopted country’s official language, but American-greatness preservation is not the basis on which I would argue such a point.
In any case, language-learning was definitely a major activity for immigrants, and much energy was devoted to teaching them.
“In 1910,” one sign explained, “the Y.W.C.A. established its first International Institute to provide English classes, an employment bureau, and citizenship assistance. By 1919…62 Institutes, staffed by workers who spoke 36 languages, had been established nationwide.”
Artifacts of Another Era: Note the Expulsion Sign
Plates from the Past, Four Languages
Based on the languages I was hearing, I would say that the majority of visitors to Ellis Island today were from other countries. Same for the employees in the restaurant, who wore name tags identifying their countries of origin, which we enjoyed seeing.
To accommodate international visitors, the 45-minute audio tour is available in nine languages. That’s fabulous, and very Ellis Islandy in itself!