The untold stories of migrants to America

Written By Lingkar Dunia on Thursday, June 16, 2011 | 12:31 AM

New exhibits are being staged at Ellis Island in New York Harbor

Okay, before everyone writes in and tells me, I do know the Statue of Liberty is not on Ellis Island.

However, it was the beacon of hope watched avidly by passengers on crowded ships, that from 1892 to 1954, deposited them for processing on Ellis Island (pictured below).

I once had a book launch on Ellis Island, and found it a rather spooky place.  Modern crowds thronged it, but there was an overwhelming impression of the sadness and tragedy the immigrants were escaping from, and the nervous uncertainty with which they contemplated their unknown futures.

At least 40% of modern Americans have an ancestor who went through the processing at Ellis Island that matched getting through the security checks of America today.

Now, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is planning exhibits that will tell the full story of the teeming masses -- not just European forebears, but African slaves, displaced Indians, and people reinventing themselves, to escape unsatisfactory pasts.

Alan Kraut, chairman of the museum's history committee, promises that the story will present much that is usually overlooked.

Scholars and exhibit designers have been dredging records for three years, looking for the most evocative stories.  The new displays will feature how towns, villages, and cities changed with the influx of migrants, and also the economic and political pressures that drove people to make the huge decision to shift to a new country -- or, once there, to move on to another area.  Discrimatory laws and ethnic prejudices, and the migrants' staunchness in the face of these threats, will be depicted in family histories.

As Mr. Kraut says, "Without their talent and muscle, where would we be?"

PS.  The Statue of Liberty is on Liberty Island.


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