Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Living Harbor

Among the scores of artifacts at Ellis Island, graffiti has been preserved. The sketches kept getting my attention. I can imagine an anxious immigrant sketching a burro from a home, a New York pigeon on a window ledge, or a simple cooking pan.

Chunks of wall behind plexiglass display many names and dates. The photograph I shared reads Pietro Mecia and Tommaso Pirlo---, 31 Agst 1901.

As some immigrants waited on Ellis Island for weeks, these sketches and names are treasures among America's embroiled history of immigration.

They are symbols of the perseverance still required of immigrants today.

And they serve as a reminder to me not only to keep educating myself about our country's history of immigration but also well-read on the current state of affairs. Recently, my students wrote about their family heritage--many do not have to reach all that far back to share their stories of family emigrating to our country. In some cases, I am teaching the children of two adults who sacrificed a family history and a homeland in order to come here for an education.

Sometimes that fact of life as been lost on me. It has been easy (and irresponsible) to see immigration as something that ended once Ellis Island closed, or to just associate it with the early twentieth century and U.S. History textbooks.

As a teacher, my classroom is a living harbor to immigrants. That overwhelms me. The American classroom is indeed one of the last few harbors of hope for the modern immigrant--the entire American classroom, and not just the TESL classrooms.

I need to be mindful of that honor.


  1. As an immigrant, I would be proud to be in your classroom!

  2. An honor indeed. And you are worthy of it.

  3. My husband's father came over from Hungary as a 12 year old boy, technically making my husband a first-generation American. When my old-soul daughter visited Ellis Island with her high school band, she texted me from the Great Hall, in reverence of walking in the footsteps of her grandfather. Thanks for posting your story, to help me remember mine.

  4. Today, as we were testing (horrors!), one of my students who has only been here a year was on the edge of tears because she didn't meet the benchmark. I was explaining to her how proud I was of one year she has learned to speak English, learned to read (she didn't know how to read before) and is a good student. Watching her near tears broke my heart. Her family has given up so much and she wants to be successful...I can only imagine if I was in her country...would I do as well? Probably not. These students are amazing in what they are doing...I, too, feel honored to have them as my students. I learn from them too!