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Ellis Island: The Dark Side of Life as an Early American Immigrant Essay

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From the late 1800’s to the mid 1950’s, Ellis Island in New York Bay was the entrance to a new life for many immigrants. These people left their respective homelands for a variety of reasons: from famine and religious persecution, to war and rumors about cities of solid gold. But common to all was the drive to start over, the drive to be whoever they wanted to be in the “Golden Land.” Said an inspired immigrant of the words of Mother America:
…cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! [sic]” (Lazarus 10)
For many of these lucky Americans, the Statue’s torch of “world-wide welcome” (Lazarus 7) burned brightly. But for countless others, that lamp was quite dim indeed. Some were sent back to their countries, blatantly denied the right to a better life. Many more faced indescribable challenges in the new environment, struggling in the throes of poverty. Although over 12 million people came to Ellis Island seeking a new life away from oppressive circumstances, not all of them succeeded in living the American Dream because of deportation, exploitation, and discrimination.
From countries all over the world, immigrants flocked to America in attempt to make it their new adopted home. They arrived by steamships that docked by the Verrazano-Narrows. This would end a voyage that could last as long as six months. Ferries would then come to the docked steamships and carry their passengers to Ellis Island. Success at last, they would think, as their eyes came to rest on the greatest symbol of America: The Statue of Liberty. This icon of life, liberty, ...


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...hout sunlight; rooms to sleep in, eat in, to cook in, but without sunshine. Could I survive with just a place to sleep in and eat in, or would I always need sunlight to be happy? ‘Where is America?’ cries my heart. (Bausum 95)
I strongly believe that Ellis Island – though often percieved as a gateway to a beautiful, happy life for all who go through its halls – was actually a horrible experience for many. Countless hearts were broken as they were deported. Fair jobs were not available to many. Thousands were packed into New York slums, wishing they had never come to the new country. Not only were the streets not paved in gold, but immigrants were often required to pave the roads themselves. Long after the island closed, workmen found an inscription on the wall written by an immigrant. “Why should I fear the fires of Hell?” it read. “I’ve been through Ellis Island.”



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