In July 2010 I visited the United States. Apart from visiting relatives in Boston and Pensylvania I spent 2½ weeks in Flushing Queens, New York.
My visit coincided with an extreme heat-wave, which to some extent curbed my enthusiam for visiting tourist attractions. On the other hand I learnt how many New York citizens get by without the help of air-conditioning; the subway, buses, department stores, museums, and public libraries were cool havens.
Musician in train from Flushing, Queens.
One of my most memorable and moving experiences was a visit to Ellis Island , where from 1892 to 1954 12 million immigrants got their first taste of, what was for them, the promised land. Although hoping to escape poverty and oppression, not all of them were allowed to stay; some were repatriated due poor health or legal issues.
Museum on Ellis Island
Refugees from pogroms in Russia 1905
My paternal and maternal grandparents left, respectively, the Ukraine and Poland in the last two decades of the 19th century. Whether it was due to choice or necessity they only got as far as London, and that is where they stayed. A number of their grandchildren migrated to other countries: Denmark (me), Israel and the United States.
I never knew my grandparents, but I often send them a thankful vibe; after all if they had stayed put, their children would have probably perished in the holocaust.
Immigrants often feel they should be grateful. This however does not necessarily prevent feelings of loneliness, alienation (?) and restlessness.
'We are all on a journey and we don't know where.' The latter phrase is not mine, but Daniel Cain's. It is very apt.
P.S. An American friend sent me the following comment, which she would like to share with anybody who reads this blog:
'Very touching - I too spent many hours on Ellis Island some years ago.
My maternal grandparents came that way and my grandfather cheated his way in; he was ill and an X was chalked on his coat, indicating he was to return to Europe. Craftily, he turned the coat inside out when walking past the final authorities and was able to stay.
And here I am in Europe again - to the understandable dismay of my poor mother, 40 years ago'