It is estimated that nearly half of all Americans can trace their family history to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island. From 1892 to 1954, when Ellis Island was operating as an immigration station more than 12 million immigrants entered its halls.
And this week, a new wing, The Peopling of America Center opens on Ellis Island. The new galleries chronicle immigration to America before the processing station at Ellis Island opened in 1892 and after it closed in 1954. The idea is to tell a more comprehensive story of American immigration from the colonial era to today. The exhibits contain videos produced by the History Channel where immigrants share their stories about arriving and living in America. The museum will also be renamed the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. On May 19, the grand opening will be celebrated with a gala hosted by Meredith Vieira which will honor Diane von Furstenberg, Patti LuPone and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In 2010, when Bruce Springsteen accepted the Ellis Island Family Heritage Award he was joined onstage by his mother, Adele, 85, and his 87 -and 90-year-old aunts Ida and Dora (who passed away in 2012). Springsteen shared that Ellis Island was particularly meaningful for him. His grandfather, Anthony Zerilli, came though Ellis Island at the turn of the century unable to read or write, went to New York University and became a lawyer. His grandmother, Adelina Sorrentino, arrived at Ellis Island when she was 28 and lived to be 100.
"You can't really know who you are and where you're going unless you know where you came from," Springsteen told the crowd. "...it's good to remember we are a nation of immigrants of hopeful wanderers. And we cannot know who is coming across our borders today whose story will add a significant page to the American story. Who will work hard, who will raise a family, whose new blood will strengthen the good fabric holding our nation together. I am proud to be here today as another hopeful wanderer -- a son of Italy, of Ireland and of Holland...to give thanks to those who have come before whose journey, courage and sacrifice made me an American."
For more information about Ellis Island and The Peopling of America Center, visit www.LibertyEllisFoundation.org. Ferry tickets and boat schedules to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are available at www.StatueCruises.com. Ferries depart from Battery Park in New York City and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Bruce Springsteen with his mother Adele and aunts Dora (far left) and Ida (far right) at the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards
Photo used with permission. Courtesy The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.