“Winning history... an inspiring portrait.” — Publishers Weekly
Ellis Island. From 1892 to 1954 it was the gateway to America. But was it an island of hope, or of tears?
After they left the ship and entered the inspection station at Ellis Island, they had to walk up a steep stairway, past doctors who stared at each of them and occasionally wrote something in chalk on their coats. L for lame, H for heart trouble, E for eye problems. Those who were sick could be removed from the line and denied entry. Everyone was examined, including children and babies. Families with one sick member were separated, sometimes for weeks. And that was only the informal part of the physical exam.
Imagine you are a poor immigrant, you’ve just completed a long journey from your small rural town in Europe, across the ocean in steerage (essentially the basement of the ship where passengers were crowded together with no privacy or indoor plumbing and very little food), you have been questioned over and over and over, and finally when you are allowed off the ship, your head is examined for lice, and perhaps shaved, you are told to remove at least part of your clothes in public, and finally someone sticks a metal hook in your eye, and because you don’t speak any English, you don’t have any idea why these people are doing all this to you. And this is only the first step — there are more hours of waiting and questions ahead of you. America is supposed to be the land of equality and opportunity — but what you experience on Ellis Island doesn’t seem like either.