The Immigrant Experience And What We Forget

This weekend I took my 11 year old son to the local college to hear the DuPage Symphony Orchestra perform Heroic and Hopeful. He didn’t really care for the first part but enjoyed the second part. This program started with the Liberty Fanfare by John Williams, followed by Antonin Dvorak’s From the New World Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95. POWERFUL!

After intermission we listened to the music of Peter Boyer and watched Ellis Island: The Dream of America. As music played there was a slide show of Ellis Island photographs. Then seven actors came out at different times to talk about their immigrant experiences. We heard from people from Poland, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, Ireland and Russia.

Throughout the Ellis Island portion of the program I was in tears. It made me realize that I spend all day looking for mine or someone else’s ancestors, seeking facts. When I write their stories I try to put them into historical context and bring them to life. But as I look for the facts I don’t stop to think about their stories. Maybe that is a good thing because I’d probably be in tears all the time. But it is also a reminder that as I write their stories to take a little more time thinking about their experience. The 22 days on the ship while enduring a three day horrible storm. Losing family members on the voyage from the old country to America. And wondering what their dreams were and what made them leave in the first place. If you ever have a chance to hear Peter Boyer’s program I highly recommend it. Bring your tissues though!

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