Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ellis Island, New York

I had no idea what Ellis Island was or its significant till I actually arrived there and went through the exhibits and videos. After exploring Statue of Liberty, Ferry took us to Ellis Island. I got down expecting to explore another small island with a park or something. It was quite touchy to know about this place and its history.

Ellis island was where immigrants landed in large numbers during 1880-1024. During those times, Industrial revolution had rendered many people jobless in europe. War, colonialism, drought, dictatorship and other incidents had forced thousands of people in Europe to abandon their home land and migrate elsewhere, in search of economic opportunities, safety, and a chance of survival.  United States was their sole hope. These people sold their little belongings to buy a ship ticket to US. New York was their port of entry in most of the cases and they were dropped off at Ellis Island for immigration clearance.This period represents largest ever migration in the history.

US immigration laws were not so strict those days and as much as 98% of who arrived would eventually cleared immigration. Others were turned down and sent back- either because they had contagious diseases or couldn't prove their worthiness to earn a livelihood.

This might sound simple to read, but viewing the pictures, artifacts and videos here gives whole new perspective.

Most of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis island arrived in bad condition, after spending several weeks in overcrowded ships, surviving on minimal food and facilities. Their hope of having a better life held them strong. Some had been separated from their families, others had lost them in war. Few how didn't have money to pay for travel, agreed to work as laborer for 4-5 years in the fields and factories of landlords who paid for their transportation.

Once in Ellis island, they had to wait for several days for their turn to come. They waited patiently with whatever belongings they had. Each of the wannable immigrants were subjected to medical tests, were questioned on the money they had, if they had any relative/employer in US, the skills they had and so on. Those who qualified immigration officer's scrutiny were eventually taken in a ferry to New York City. Those who couldn't make it, were deported back at steam-liner's expense. Sometimes few in a family made it while others didn't. The separation at times was permanent.

As much as half of American nationals today have their ancestors who came in via Ellis island. Hence this place resembles emotional importance to many Americans. Eventually native Americans raised their voice against large number of immigration that was taking place, resulting in stricter laws of immigration. Subsequently US govt took over immigration. It was mandated that those who intend to immigrate should get a visa at their home country US Consulate. As Air transport came into prominence, immigrants stated arriving by Air and also at ports other than NY. Sometime in 1960, there were more staff in Ellis island than immigrants, hence it was decided to close it down as an immigration centre and convert it into a memorial.

Today tourists come here in large number, after they visit statue of liberty. The building houses lots of photos which are a century old, depicting the state of immigrants in 19th century, reasons for large scale immigration in those days, challenges and conflicts and so on. Guided tours are available at regular intervals and audio clippings are available in multiple languages. A video of 30 minutes duration was shown to us. It was touchy when one immigrant voice says "For us, police were always cruel people who tortured us and took away our belongings and family members. The idea of democracy and the idea that police are here to help people was completely new to us"


Geeta Singh said...

awesome pics nd useful info ..thnx

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Geeta

D.Nambiar said...

This is a piece of American history, good job, Shrinidhi. Really good photographs here and in the ground zero post.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks D N

Anonymous said...

really beautiful pics and it reminds me of NY.