A quick one this week as I’ve been away on leave over the children’s Easter holidays. We took a rather last minute decision to go to New York City. And it was wonderful. To summarise the whole experience in a paragraph is impossible so I’ll tell you about Ellis Island. On our last trip to New York, shortly after 9/11, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were closed. So this was my first visit. It was something I’d wanted to see for a long time and it totally lived up to expectations.
Last summer I’d visited the Tenement Museum and learned something of how immigration has shaped – and continues to shape – America. There the stories of the people who lived at 99 Orchard Street are beautifully and meticulously told. Ellis Island does a similar thing on a much bigger scale. In one year (1907), over 1 million immigrants arrived in New York through Ellis Island! And more than one in every three Americans can trace their ancestors back to Ellis Island.
One thing that stood out for me was the energy and enthusiasm of the park rangers. We opted for free ranger-led tours of both Ellis and the Statue of Liberty and they were excellent. For the children it was a great way to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time.
Ellis Island was fascinating as it’s such a big site and there is so much to see, do and explore. We were there for hours and felt we’d learned a lot about the immigrant experience. I even found a ‘Catherine Leonard’ or two who had come through that way!
At the Statue of Liberty, we were asked to write down one word to describe how it made us feel. And a sentence about what the word ‘liberty’ meant to us. We shared our words with the group, but not the sentence. It was simple but effective exercise in engagement.
And it was this that I wrote on my slip of paper. Welcome. This is what Liberty represents. Amid the strife about nativism and xenophobia, Liberty stands tall. America is a nation of immigrants but it’s also a place of rebirth and new opportunities. Tragically people’s lives improve so dramatically in America, they can sometimes forget where they came from.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”