I went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island today with my friend, Allan. Even though I've lived in New York City for so long, I've never been to either of these famous landmarks. It's a visit that was long overdue.
My family came through Ellis Island around the turn of the century. After viewing the many photos and artifacts, I imagined how frightened and alone by ancestors must have felt. They didn't speak English when they arrived. They got laborer jobs during the day and went to night school to learn English like most immigrants who entered the U.S. at the time. They braved extraordinary conditions and an unknown future so that my future could be brighter. They sacrificed and scraped by so that I might have an opportunity that they would never know.
Walking around the base of the Statue of Liberty, I was struck by how beautiful she is. She must have been stunning when viewed from the crowded boat that carried my ancestors to shore. It is very easy to see how she could fill someone with hope, especially when that someone was in search of something better than the life they left behind.
Most interesting is that the Statue of Liberty is built in two parts. The internal structure was built first, and then the external structure, the structure that everyone sees, wraps around it. It's what's inside that allows the structure to stand so high above the New York Harbor, welcoming anyone and everyone who ever wanted a shot at a new life. It's what's inside that has sustained Lady Liberty for so long.
I wish my ancestors who passed that way, with their resolve, determination, and ambition, were still with us. I'd like to thank them for their courage because that courage makes my life possible. It's hard to imagine how I could ever be afraid again knowing the horrendous conditions that they endured with dignity and grace.
While my beginnings were humble, I have had the great luxury of so many advantages that simply were not possible for my relatives. I live the life that they imagined and pursued. Surely, if my ancestors, in their dire state in a foreign land, believed they could attain a brighter future for themselves and their families, then of course I can do the same. Of course, we can all do the same.
As I left the island, I considered the tremendous sense of responsibility that lay at my feet, built upon the backs of my brave ancestors. A sense of pride welled up inside of me as I walked the ground where they walked, all of us one foot in front of the other, racing toward a better, happier life. That life, is mine. And to them I am grateful beyond measure.
The photo above was taken by my friend, Allan. I'm standing inside the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island in front of a mural of photographs depicting the diversity of America.