Imagine you are a five-year-old child and your Italian father has put you on a boat bound for America. Your mother is murdered–hit over the head with an axe because she had uncovered a smuggling scheme that was taking place on ships–and you, as a two-year-old, are with her at the time of the brutality. You somehow get away and are later found and returned home. At your fifth year of age, your father decides to send you off, hoping for a better life for you. And, he believes that new life will be in America, the land of liberty and dreams.
Your name is Angelina Carolonza and you arrive at Ellis Island, along with scores of others in search of that same dream.
You go on to settle in New Jersey, marry, and have twelve children. You live to the ripe old age of eighty and enjoyed a pretty good life.
I no longer have to imagine the path that five-year-old took; I walked it yesterday at Ellis Island for the first time. There are millions of stories like these, but this one happens to be the story of my great, great grandmother.
At a couple of points throughout the day, I was moved as I learned of the manifests, the immigrants and their paths, and as I attempted to trace the histories of my other Italian ancestors. It’s quite a special place, and you can’t help but become awestruck by the magnitude of the decisions and journeys these people made. Two of my students and I sat at a computer and tried to track down members of our families. Those two had better luck than I did locating their ancestors. I was so happy for them.
Afterwards, as we walked through the exhibit at the Statue of Liberty’s museum, I wrote down some of the excerpts from immigrants that are on display and found these three that follow particularly inspiring:
“Tears of joy streamed down my face as we passed by the Statue of Liberty.”
(Addressed directly to the Statue of Liberty) … “I first saw you on the evening of May 4, 1909, from the deck of the Immigrant Ship from Norway. I was wondering, as I looked at you and the lights in all directions, ‘What is going to happen to me in this vast, new land of America?'”
(Addressed to the Statue of Liberty) … “Anticipation and excitement robbed us of sleep that last night at sea for in the early morning how you would rise before our very eyes: New York harbor’s single lady welcoming committee.”
That Lady Liberty…what an icon and sense of freedom she must have been for weary travelers, although I imagine many of the immigrants were not only excited, but also extremely nervous about their lives and what was in store for them.
I am so pleased that we were able to take our Business Communication students yesterday for the day. It was a great trip for all of us.
I was also able to track my dad’s side of the family–the Parrillo side–but for more on that, I must defer to my Uncle Vince Parrillo, a professor and recognized expert with regard to immigration. He writes about it in his blog, Guardians of the Gate at vincentparrillo.posterous.com. Feel free to stop by and learn more about Ellis Island and hear more stories from him directly.
So to Angelina Carolonza, Nicolo Parrillo, Matteo DeMarco, and the others who’ve passed before us, we thank you for making the trek and for offering us freedom here in America. We will be forever grateful.