"I Go To America," Reaching For The American Dream
By Miriam B. Medina

Part III
The Arrival

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The Statue of Liberty

For millions of immigrants, the Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor was their first glimpse of America. Lady Liberty, " Enlightening the World," was a symbol of democracy, of freedom of expression and religious beliefs.

The Statue of Liberty was given to the people of the United States by the French citizenry people on July 4, 1884 in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. The two countries agreed for the American people to build the pedestal and the French people the Statue itself; and its assembly was to be held in the United States. The construction of the statue, sculpted by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, began in 1875 and was completed in Paris on June 1884. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower, engineered its internal structure. The Statue was finally dedicated on October 28, 1886.

The Pedestal Inscription: The New Colossus

Before the dedication, however, a lack of funds became a serious problem on both sides of the Atlantic. France as well as America devised ways of raising money in order to bring this massive project to completion. In the United States, the Pedestal Art Loan Exhibition was created. Artists and writers were invited to contribute a work which would be auctioned off for the benefit of the fund. The poem that was finally selected to be inscribed on a tablet to be placed in the base was called "The New Colossus" by the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus. "The New Colossus" was a tribute to liberty and to America as the haven of the oppressed."

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" 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, tempest-tost to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

" America, " " America! "

As the mass of immigrants approached the statue in the New York Harbor, smiles spread across their wretched lifeless faces and they raised their voices in unison "America." "America!" For the newcomers the American Dream was finally at hand. Suddenly the atmosphere aboard the vessel became electrified. The immigrants -whatever their nationality or religion-- embraced each other, hugging and kissing as they danced with joy. Gone were the saddened faces, heavy hearts and feelings of regret. Tears flowed in abundance, while many fell to their knees kissing the floor of the vessel. Throughout the entire deck, hands raised to the heavens could be seen, as prayers of gratitude were uttered in various tongues, for their safe arrival. For the first time, in that single miraculous moment, the mass of immigrants became of one mind, soul and spirit. Whatever awaited them, it had to be better than what they had left behind.

I have included this link to a slide tour based on 19th century period photos, in order to provide a full view of the European emigration.  European Emigration

The American Dream

What is the American Dream?

The term was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book the Epic of America, written in 1931. He states:

"The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." (P.214-215) (14)

Ports of Entry

"Those from Europe generally came through East Coast facilities, while those from Asia generally entered through West Coast centers. More than 70 percent of all immigrants, however, entered through New York City, which came to be known as the "Golden Door." Throughout the late 1800s, most immigrants arriving in New York entered at the Castle Garden depot near the tip of Manhattan. In 1892, the federal government opened a new immigration processing center on Ellis Island in New York harbor. "(loc.gov)


"Ships entering port are at once put under quarantine, varying in length with the character of the contagion feared. For the plague, from 10 to 15 days is generally required; for yellow fever, 5 to 7 days; and for cholera, 5 days, including the term the voyage. (15)

Before the immigrants could depart the ship, a health officer came aboard to examine the vessel's bill of health. The officer had to ensure that passengers and crew were not infected with a contagious disease .. If after the examination, serious contagious diseases were discovered on board (including gonorrhea and syphilis, certain parasitic diseases, and trachoma), then the infected were removed to a quarantine hospital to be medically treated "Trachoma is a highly infectious eye condition caused by Chlamydia bacteria and spread by dirty water and eye-seeking flies" -a certain cause for deportation. The plague, cholera, and yellow fever were being specially guarded against. Many of the immigrants , upon arriving at quarantine, were so covered with vermin that they were placed in baths of water and literally scrubbed from head to foot. Besides the medical attention, they were given healthy nourishment, bed rest and good care. Once their health was completely restored, they were sent on their way. The quarantine stations on both coasts did an excellent job in controlling infectious diseases from reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. The vessel was not allowed to proceed until it had gone through the process of purification.

Many of the immigrants arrived penniless, having exhausted their savings on the journey; those few with a meager savings soon fell prey to the waterfront sharper. Once these immigrants were established in the United States, they were able to fend for themselves. By working hard, they prospered , overcoming obstacles of discrimination, illiteracy and poverty. They were soon able to help their friends and relatives come join them. The pain and suffering, homesickness and difficulty in adjusting to the American culture would give place to a new image of leading and productive citizens, successful businesspeople, political figures, doctors, nurses, actors and actresses, writers, historians, inventors, defenders of women rights, musicians, opera singers, composers, teachers and more. What an outstanding and unusual nation: the United States of America and its diversity was singular around the world.

Angel Island Immigration Station

For the people arriving from the Pacific routes, Angel Island was the port of entry, which is located in the San Francisco Bay.

During the early into mid-nineteenth century, there was an exodus of unskilled male workers from China, who migrated to California and the western states seeking work. These Chinese newcomers were young, half of them unmarried, and they hoped to return soon with enough to take care of their families. These men would find work in mines, railroads, and farmlands. The Gold Rush on the west coast was the prime attraction to the Chinese immigrants. For the Chinese women that came into this country, few such opportunities existed. Many would be forced into becoming prostitutes.

The American miners and laborers in California soon began to resent these hard working Chinese. Competing with their extreme thriftiness and willingness to labor for low wages, they were branded as coolies. The Americans accused them of robbing the white laborer of his bread. Hate was directed against the Chinese immigrants especially when an economic depression hit the United States in the 1870s. The public was in an uproar, demanding control of the influx of Chinese immigrants, resulting in Congress passing The Chinese Exclusion Act; May 6, 1882.

The Chinese were not readily accepted by the United States, allowed into this country only grudgingly.

Castle Garden

In 1855 the immigration authorities obtained the building for use as a landing place for immigrants. (16) Thousands would pour into the rotunda from the arriving vessels. Some lucky immigrants had friends and relatives waiting for them. What an emotional moment for the newly arrived immigrants to see familiar faces once again! Laughing, hugging, and crying: these relatives, who had arrived previously in America, had worked for years scrimping and saving their money to send to their families back in the old country, to pay for their passage to America. . The fact that they were finally here, made all their small sacrifices worthwhile.

Ellis Island

Between 1892 and 1924 during the greatest immigration to this country Ellis Island received 17 million people. "The immigrants disembarked with all of their belongings and they were tagged with a number that designated which ship they had traveled on. Many of these immigrants were steerage passengers, paying circa $35 a head" (17).   Despite the tedious paperwork, the first and second class passengers were treated with courtesy and warmth. Their paperwork was processed immediately enabling them to proceed to their destinations unhindered. The steerage passengers had to more than prove to the immigration officials that they were not imbeciles, thieves or imposters. "Ellis Island became the Island of Tears, tears of sorrow for those who were sent back and tears of joy for those who stayed. Almost two-thirds of the immigrants made New York City their first American destination, the rest took the train and fanned out across the country." (17)

Not everyone who made the trip was allowed to stay. Those who arrived destitute, looking wretched and dressed like a pauper, were usually sent back to Europe, if there was no one in America willing to vouch for them--promising that the immigrants would not become a financial burden to their new country.

One of the first procedures that the immigrant had to confront was the examination by the medical doctor. The second test was to determine mental deficiency where those immigrants who showed no signs of mental or physical deficiencies were asked questions by the immigration inspectors in the native tongue of the immigrant. . The ones that were literate would whisper in the ear of a grandparent, parent, or person the answers to the questions. The immigrants had to stand the entire time, weaving in and out of the pipe rails, waiting for their turn to come, without a bench to sit on. It must have been very difficult for the older men and women. Later on, after many complaints from the immigrants, or a change in attitude by the immigration people, benches were provided.

For the immigrants suspected of being feeble in mind an X, would be marked on their clothes, which meant they had to take more tests. L was for lameness, CT for Trachoma, S for senility, H for heart, etc. The Italians who didn't have papers had tags hung on them with the letters W.O.P. (without papers) “Yiddish-speaking immigrants recall having their clothes marked with a mysterious circle. In Yiddish, a circle is a keikel. In the language of the bigot, the word became kike " (17)

For an excellent detailed early history on Ellis Island and the Immigrants

(Continue on Page 2 For Ending of Part III)



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