Emigration memories



by Ro Pucci

For many Italians this island was the golden gate to their new home

Ellis Island - REMEMBERING ELLIS ISLAND ON COLUMBUS DAY - Ro PUCCI - emigrati.it web site

I am one of the one hundred million people whose ancestor entered America through the immigration offices on Ellis Island in New York.

This fortunate ancestor was my grandfather and when I was a child he used to tell me over and over again the story of how he got to America and of how he became a citizen of the United States. From his little Sicilian village he had arrived in the huge city on the other side of the Atlantic. The way he told me his story made me look everything magic and legendary. My grandfather had to return back to Italy while, closing the family circle, I live now in Texas maybe because I was fascinated by his first American tales. I remember that grandpa Gaetano used to get excited when he described the day he got to New York. On the unstable boat where almost everyone had been seasick all the passengers had run to the side rails and in the misty morning they had finally caught sight of the Statue of Liberty, beautiful and gigantic.

Then they had gone through the inspection on Ellis Island. The U.S. Immigration facilities built there since January of 1892 consisted of three floors and covered an area of about five thousand and six hundred square meters. The newcomers were taken there to go through the physicals and their papers controls. 

Twelve million people, more than seventy percent of the immigrants who arrived to America at the end of the nineteenth century had to go through that inspection on the island that has become the symbol of immigration to our great Country. An important museum can be found on Ellis Island to remind us also of the dream that did not always come true and that was associated with the United States. These immigrants came from every corner of the world and from Europe that was afflicted by wars, poverty and hunger.

I will never forget the plain and shameless words of an Italian American lady, who now owns a very successful restaurant, according to which her parents had been able to have at dinner their first plate of meat only when from their poor Sicily they had finally immigrated to America.

Ellis Island in the period of the great migration witnessed incredible stories of anguish and overwhelming human dramas. My grandfather used to tell me that almost everyone was afraid of that inspection and of missing the opportunity to enter the new Country that offered a job and the chance to give a decent life to their family. Unfortunately not everyone had the requirements necessary for the admission. Poverty and hunger had spread in Europe illnesses like tuberculosis that killed a large number of people mostly in the poor areas of the Old Continent among which there was also southern Italy. Grandpa explained to us that among the immigrants who got to Ellis Island together with the joy of those who were accepted there was also the frustration of those who were rejected.

America continues to offer hope and periodically we discuss to slow down or stop this flux of people who want to enter into our Country.

But, how can become merciless and indifferent a people like ours that is formed also by the children and the grandchildren of other immigrants?

According to another story heard from one of my high school teachers, at the end of WWII when on board a ship that was taking many Italian prisoners to America the news arrived that the war was over and that the boat now had to turn around and to go back to Italy, many of those prisoners cried desperately. For them the American dream was over.

The Pilgrim Fathers who were among the first to get to our shores fleeing from the British religious intolerance, could have never imagined that they were in fact the first of a long series of refugees seeking shelter and freedom on the North American continent.

Ellis Island with its Museum of immigration is important also for this reason. It is a constant reminder that America was chosen by many not only because it offered a second chance for a better life but because it has given the protection of a powerful sanctuary to innumerable refugees from every part of the world.

Through Ellis Island has passed an endless stream of men of faith, of idealists, of simple fathers and mothers who have strengthened and developed the greatest Country in the world. At the same time they have built a bridge across the ocean that now unites us and makes stronger the western civilization of the Old and of the New World.

Article by Ro Pucci

Houston, Texas ; October 10, 2005

Roberto G. Pucci (Ro Pucci)

Ro Pucci

Ro Pucci is a U.S. citizen of Italian origin who lives in Houston, Texas and works as a freelance photojournalist. Many of his articles and pictures have been published on “ITALIA ESTERA” and on many newspapers, press agencies and on other interned based publications. He is particularly interested on Italian and American facts and culture and writes also poems for his picture books.

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