As Independence Day draws near, a recent visit that my family and I made to New York has made me feel even more grateful for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness we have in America. These images of freedom and bravery were all around us.
Statue of Liberty
The ferry we took from Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island was at capacity with nearly 500 people filing on board to find their seat on benches or along the decks. They seemed to be of every age and ethnicity. When the ferry approached the Statue, the crowd became quieter as this icon of freedom towered and its magnitude took hold. Since 1886, it has served as a most welcomed sight to immigrants and visitors to this great land.
Ellis Island – Registry Room
Ellis Island is where the long journey ended and a new life began for millions of immigrants, between 1892 and 1924. It was here in the Main Building’s Registry Room where third and fourth class passengers were met by inspectors. Pauline Notkoff, a Polish Jewish immigrant arriving in 1917 shared one such encounter in a 1985 interview for the Ellis Island Museum. “They asked us questions. ‘How much is two and one. How much is two and two? But the next young girl, also from our city, went and they asked her, ‘How do you wash stairs, from the top or from the bottom?’ She says, ‘I don’t go to America to wash stairs.’”
It’s estimated that half of the American people are descendants of immigrants arriving to Ellis Island. As we ferried back past the Manhattan skyline, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hopes and dreams were of my great-grandparents, coming from Ireland, England, and Italy. The skyline represents the aspirations of millions of people from every nation who can now call America ‘home’.
Back on land, we made our way through the crowds of people to the 9/11 Memorial, which is located at the former World Trade Center complex. Twin reflecting pools, with giant waterfalls, represent renewal and offer visitors a quiet and contemplative place to remember the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 terror attacks. The names of each of the victims are inscribed in the surrounding stone wall.
One World Trade Center
Originally called Freedom Tower, One World Trade Center stands in the place of the former World Trade Center at a purposeful 1,176 feet in height. Still under construction, its dimensions represent the twin towers and serve as a symbol of healing and strength. Seeing it, I couldn’t help but think of the bravery of the victims, including the hundreds of rescue personnel who gave their lives on 9/11.
Before we headed to the subway, I spoke with an NYPD officer who shared with me that the attacks on that day in 2001 influenced him as a young boy to serve his country. “I joined the US Army and served a three year tour in Iraq,” he said.
In New York City, we are reminded that we’re part of a much larger picture – one in which the images of those who have risked their lives and fought for the sake of freedom have made an indelible impression.