L-Train: TRIP: Ellis Island
TRIP: Ellis Island
The trip to Ellis Island was a thought provoking experience. I got to deep dive into the lives of the immigrants who came to the US back in the 1900s. We started out by taking a ferry to Ellis Island at 9 am.
The entire experience of the Ellis Island Museum was divided in 3 main parts: the immigration process, the lives of the detained immigrants, and their journey to America. In the text that follows, I would explain the process of arrival to the US, through the lens of the immigrants.
The experience started with the baggage room, where the immigrants kept their belongings on arrival to the island. They received a token to collect their baggage after the inspections.
Once the immigrants had stored their luggage, they would next go to the “Registry Room” to begin the immigration process. It was interesting to note that even back at the time, the immigration process was very similar to the way we have it today. So, the immigrants had to wait to be called at the counter where they would have their first round of assessment. The farther end of this massive hall (shown in the image) is where the counters were placed.
Next, we saw the arrival process for the immigrants, which started with the inspections. It was mandatory for every immigrant to clear the inspection to be allowed a safe passage into the US. These included Medical examinations and legal inspections. But, it was hard at times, as not all immigrants passed the tests (they were marked with an “X” on their clothes).
To serve the immigrants with food, there was an eating room on the Ellis Island, where the immigrants could order food. The audio accounts of some immigrants showed that they really liked the food they had here.
Next, for the immigrants that passed the checks, there were counters for money exchange (accepting all currencies) and train bookings, so that they can start their life in the United States.
But, not all immigrants had a smooth entry to the US. So, for the ones who were temporarily detained, they had to go through a rigorous process of detailed inspection like mental testing and doctor’s diagnosis.
To ensure physical and emotional comfort for the immigrants, there were several social welfare organizations (called Immigrant Aid Societies) helping the immigrants get adjusted while they were in Ellis Island.
The food service for detained immigrants was provided for free, and it was a contribution of these societies and charities. It caught my attention that due to the cultural diversity, many immigrants were not familiar with what they could eat. For instance, fruits like banana and meals like oatmeal were new for some people. So sometimes, they did not know how to consume them. But, the staff guided them.
This part of the tour ended with the stories of immigrants who were unable to get an entry inside the US. While the numbers were small (2%), over the years, it reached close to 250,000 immigrants not getting an entry. So, while Ellis Island was an isle of hope for some, it was an isle of tears for others.
The other parts of the museum gave detailed accounts of the journey of those immigrants to America – the life in their hometowns, the passage to America through steam ships, the ports of arrival (in addition to NYC), the jobs they did as they entered the US, and the ways they were taught the citizenship rules and voting instructions.
I am glad I visited Ellis Island. There are parts of a struggle which often go unnoticed unless you read about them. What the immigrants experienced at the island was a harsh reality, but it was a system they had to abide by, to gain entry to the US (it is what it is).