Janus' Home


society-drinking, gambling, prostitutes, anarchists, and the like.39 Now, however, when over 40 percent of Americans can trace their heritage to someone who came through Ellis Island, "it represents the hopes and aspirations of all people who came-and are still coming-to this country in search of the American Dream," as Lee Iacocca summed up the symbolism.40 Historians, in many instances the creators of history just as much as those who actually participated in historic events, have been at odds with each other over how to present immigration. The fierce arguments which arose around the American Museum of Immigration at the base of the Statue of Liberty stemmed partly from disparate opinions of which symbol could best represent immigration. Those with the AMI felt the Statue of Liberty's welcoming message of hope, freedom, and liberty was the most appropriate one to support their image of a unified American society. New social historians working on Ellis Island argued from a much broader perspective and emphasized America's culturally pluralistic nature, where many elements of all different backgrounds are mixed together but remain separate entities.41

Throughout its long and intricate history, Ellis Island has been a place of symbols and a source of conflicting meanings. Because so much of the island's history is intensely personal and emotional, the symbols associated with it become that much more volatile. From the wooden halls the first immigrant passed through in 1892, to the crowded rooms of the 1910s, to the almost empty island of the enemy aliens of the 1950s, to the abandoned hulk of a building in the 1970's, to the Great Hall's restored splendor of the 1990s, Ellis Island has represented far more than simply a place where some 12 million people entered the United States or where 2% were returned to their homelands.42 It has stood as a gauge for Americans of how welcoming their shores really were. How ironic that the island which was seen for many years as a place of fears and tears

39. Novotny, Strangers at the Door.
40. Tift, Ellis Island, xii.
41. Holland, Idealists, Scoundrels, and the Lady.
42. Perec and Bober, Ellis Island
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13