The Symbolism of Ellis Island
From the first the Statue of Liberty was intended as a monument, a symbol; Ellis Island, separated from it by only a few hundred yards of water, became a symbol over time. The Statue of Liberty, expressing noble but abstract sentiments through its grand scale and graceful lines, seems perfectly French, reflecting its origins as a gift from France to the young American republic. Ellis Island, on the other hand-coldly efficient, recalling not only the massive railway stations of the turn of the century but also the sprawling factories of the newly industrialized nation-was in its concept and function thoroughly American. Given the varied uses to with Ellis was put, given the ambiguities surrounding the experience of immigration-in which tides of immigrants were often received with suspicion and hostility rather than open arms-the island became a symbol with a variety of contradictory meanings. (Charles Hagen, 1989)
To many it was the Island of Hopes, but to those unfortunate souls who were turned away form the golden door, Ellis was the Island of Tears. The process of inspection was a nerve-racking ordeal. Immigrants, especially large families, feared not reaching certain qualification and being separated from family members. The entire process included dozens of tests, questionnaires, examinations, and interviews. It was no wonder many immigrants identified Ellis Island with fear and agitation.