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On this day in 1954, Ellis Island, located in New York harbour, the gateway to America, closed after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892.
On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from Ireland, became the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island. She received a greeting from officials and a $10 gold piece. It was the largest sum of money she had ever had. Only two percent of immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island. Less than two percent of Americans have indigenous roots.
Today’s poem is a sonnet which you will find engraved in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It was written by the American poet Emma Lazarus in 1883, to help raise funds for the erection of the statue, The New Colossus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbour that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Today I reflect on the welcome that America gave to immigrants while remembering the millions of indigenous Americans who suffered as a result through homelessness, death and disease.