Two years after 9/11, I was asked to present at a Government Finance Officers Association meeting in New York City. Although I attended a slew of educational sessions, I also took one afternoon off to go explore the Big Apple. Coming from a small rural area near Yosemite National Park where our wonders are made by nature, I wanted to see for myself the significant and symbolic man made structures I normally only see on TV.
All alone, I made my way on the subway to Chinatown for some real Chinese food which didn’t disappoint. Loved me some sweet and sour pork! It was incredible to be greeted by this niche of New York City with its welcoming culture. Next came a walk around the former twin towers site which was under construction. My heart sank as I saw firsthand the unnecessary devastation and I pondered on the many families whose lives were changed forever. I came away more resolute to express my love for my family.
My final stop was the ferry dock–to visit the famed Ellis Island. Knowing little about this spot adjacent to the Statue of Liberty (I had no idea it was a separate island), when I arrived I was transported into an era of hope, courage, tears, and for some, a ticket to fulfill their dreams. On this weekday afternoon, the Ellis Island museum was mostly empty, leaving plenty of time to linger and ponder what-if scenarios.
The displays were moving, describing families from a variety of cultures, leaving notoriety, farms, jobs, and extended family for America. They physically survived the lengthy ship ride and were hopefully free of the many diseases shared in these tight quarters. Now came judgment day—would they be granted entrance into the United States of America? They dressed in their Sunday best and presented themselves, hoping, longing.
As I moved between displays, listening to the stories, looking at the desperate pictures, I found my eyes welling up with tears. These were my ancestors—those with the fortitude to work hard and become something better. Their vision went far beyond their lives. They foresaw a future of 50, 100 years where their great-grandchildren would experience opportunities beyond their imagination.
I am grateful for these hearty souls who funneled through Ellis Island. I am grateful for this land of plenty, this melting pot of cultures. As I once again boarded the ferry and looked up at the Statue of Liberty, I felt a rush of responsibility to continue the legacy of these hearty immigrants.