by: Amy Lauger
Coracle Fellow – Class of 2017
Two dozen of us from various nations braved the weather on the deck. The January wind was brisk! We became downright giddy, skipping around the deck to snap pictures of all that was around us as the sun was setting. Leaving behind the stateliness of Ellis Island and the grandeur of the Statue of Liberty that we had just visited, the ferry made its way to the marvel that is Lower Manhattan. My fellow passengers and I took it all in, united in awe of all around us.
Standing on that deck, bundled up in warm clothing, with my only worry being that I might lose my hat to the wind between camera shots, I chuckled to myself about what was happening. We were mere tourists, most leaving the comfort of Manhattan hotels for a few hours to explore the sights, and it was all so spectacular and enthralling for us. How much more emotional would the millions of people have been who crossed those waters a hundred years ago? Often fleeing war, poverty, or persecution, these souls crossed the Atlantic on steamships pointed toward a land of opportunity. How exciting it must have been to see the Statue of Liberty on the horizon, a beacon of hope dubbed the “Mother of Exiles.” For those deemed fit at Ellis Island to enter the U.S., how would it have been for them, on a ferry not altogether different from mine, traveling the last few miles to freedom? I could only imagine their overwhelming emotions as I experienced my own joy.
When I disembarked that ferry, I was moved to think about all the uncertainties, fears, and challenges awaiting those immigrants whose path I was following. How did my own great-grandmother, at the tender age of 22, feel when she was arrived? Did she weep for joy or was she overcome by fear? Fortunately for her, she was soon established in a welcoming community. I’m grateful for all the people that undoubtedly helped her and all my immigrant ancestors as they acclimated to life in America. I’m also grateful for the immigrants who built this country into what it has become.
The promise of America remains. At least a million people make the trek to America each year. Certainly, immigration continues to have controversy and real concerns, and of course, Lower Manhattan bears the indelible scars of its own horrific tragedy at the hands of some who despised what this land represents. These issues sadly so often confuse and divide us. However, I am so thankful for the reminder of why people including my own ancestors came to this country, why people still do, and why it’s something to cherish. For most of us, voting may be our only substantial contribution in shaping US immigration policy and enforcement. I hope that we will seek wisdom as we do so and that we will pray for our leaders. I pray that as individuals, we also will be welcoming to the immigrants that do come, for we were once aliens, too, and we are children of the Father of Exiles.