Tag Archives: immigration

I Am Not Your Negro

The question you have to ask yourself, White America needs to ask itself: Why was it necessary to have a nigger in the first place? ~ James BaldwinI Am Not Your Negro

In a neighbouring village more English than England and whiter than white, I found Agatha Christie’s book in the stacks of the church’s charity book sale. I was shocked to a degree commensurate with my liberal leanings. Then I bought it for a dollar. Continue reading I Am Not Your Negro

Ellis Island: JR and the Art of Immigration

The United States, like Canada, is a country of immigrants. Between 1892 and 1954, twelve million citizens of other nations landed at Ellis Island seeking asylum in their new homeland. Close to 40% of Americans can trace their genealogy through these early immigrants.1

There are two kinds of Ellis Island tours available. The first is a free audio tour of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and is included in the general $18 ferry ticket. (Note: most of the museum’s artifacts have been removed due to water damage incurred during  Hurricane Sandy.) The ferry also makes stops at the Statue of Liberty, but does not include admission to the top of the statue.

The second, a 90-minute docent-led tour, permits access for a limited number of guests to the unrestored hospital and some of the other buildings that are not open to the general public. Within these buildings, French artist JR has installed photographs of some of the immigrants who passed through the hospital, breathing new life into the space.

I was really at Ellis Island to access the JR tour. Not only do I like exploring abandoned buildings, the subject matter is particularly relevant to my field of interest: the relationship of people to their homes and communities. And while I wholly subscribe to the idea of Ask and you shall receive, on occasion – and much to my chagrin –  I don’t always get what I want.


Me: Hi. I’m in from out of town and I really want to see the J.R. art tour of Ellis Island.

Her: Do you have a ticket?

Me: No. I called this morning but no one called me back.

Her: You must buy tickets in advance.

Me: I tried, but I thought I’d just come down and see if there’s a “no show.” There are always no-shows, especially on an awful day like today. I’m happy to pay.

Her: You can’t do that.

Me: Why not if there’s room?

Her: Those are the rules.

Me: Ummm, is it a security thing?

Her: Those are the the rules.

Me: But there’s always a way around things.

Her: (Laughs) There’s no way around this. I’m the person you have to talk to. You have to call Statue Cruises. And all the tours are sold out through next month.

Me: So I guess I have to be a local or on a foreign tour that books months in advance? So much for accessibility.

Her: (stares)

A few minutes later, Buddy In a Dark Suit is standing next to me while I photograph the Great Hall.

Over the years, millions of people have passed through the old hospital at Ellis Island on their way to freedom in America. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be one of them.


Here’s a peek at the JR tour:

And a photo tour of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum:

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
The more things change…
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
All immigrants climbed these stairs. Doctors, placed along their lengths, were quickly able to identify disabilities and other health problems. They would be chalked accordingly.
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
The Great Hall which, at first, contained livestock-like pens, then later, long wooden benches. The typical immigrant spent 3 to 5 hours here prior to release.
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
Detainee bunks
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
Graffiti-covered walls
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
The Window of Freedom

Ellis Island Immigration Museum Ellis Island Immigration Museum Ellis Island Immigration Museum Ellis Island Immigration Museum Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Additional Reading:

The Library of Congress: Topics in Chronicling America – Ellis Island

Scholastic.com: Interactive Tour of Ellis Island

History Channel: This Day in History – Ellis Island

New York Public Library: Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed on Ellis Island

  1. http://www.history.com/topics/ellis-island