Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Italian Immigrant Experience (4)

As the mass of immigrants approached the Statue Of Liberty 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................

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 . 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. 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.

One of the first procedures at Castle Garden and Ellis Island 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 Italians who didn't have papers had tags hung on them with the letters W.O.P. (without papers)

To be continued: The Italian Immigrant Experience (5)

contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net

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