The Child Immigrant At Ellis Island
Far, far away in the furthermost corners of the earth the word "America " is a sort of magic, alike to man, woman, and child. " Free America ! " What a beautiful sound and what happiness is to be had there!
Each year hundreds of thousands flock here from every country and from all climes to seek their fortunes or to become stranded on the rocks of despair and die in oblivion. With the host of aliens come the children, one hundred thousand strong, to become the future fathers and mothers of the alien class, who, in a generation, will be American citizens, free to vote, free to be merchants, professionals or thieves, who can tell?
In they come by the hundreds every' day through the gateway of the nation at Ellis Island. Dark-haired and ruddy, red-haired and freckled, flaxen-haired at I pink-checked, some chubby, some gaunt; bewildered, awed, or simply amused at their changed surroundings, they are pushed down the gang-plank in the scramble to be first on the land of the free.
Some born in the shadows of Greek temples and Roman ruins, bronzed by the sun of Naples or tempered by the chill winds of the Steppes, they enter the land of to-day where the siesta is not known and where the sun serves but to chronicle the hours of labor.
Behind them is the Roman road along which many of them have run in chase of the centesimi-throwing tourists, or the blue Danube, which was to them the sea and the ocean and all the waters of the universe.
The mountains of Galacia and Montenegro are far behind, as are the fig trees of Syria and the olive groves of Portugal; and here, in place of the squat, white walled and yellow tile-roofed houses of the home village are mountains of brick and stone with windows in them from which light shines, millions of them that seem to twinkle like stars.
Shrill whistles are blown, the throbbing of a great metropolis is felt and noise is everywhere in the wind, a strong contrast to the peaceful eventide back in Normandy where the chimes of the Angelus rung but a few weeks before and where so few of the immigrant children are destined to return. Who will ever fathom the thoughts of these little men and women suddenly thrown from the calm serenity of the Andalusian fields or the solemn grandeur of the Engadine, into the turmoil of human passions and human efforts of a great American city.
Children are particularly rich in impressions, and those of our immigrants must have stage settings to theirs such as would make glad the heart of Queen Mab herself. Their soft mild eyes of wonderment begin to open wide when the seaboard is reached and they embark upon the long voyage of adventure to the land that spells opportunity and promises riches.
These little people present an ethnological study. Here is tenacity pictured in the face of the Jewish child, doter far niente, in that of the Sicilian, strong will in the jaw of the Russian Moujik. Temper is shown in the eyes of Pepie, the child of Aragon, and sloth in the dull, sallow faced Syrian. while reliability appears in the Teuton child, and nonchalance in the French gamin.
Stockholm is far away, and little Augusta, holding her doll close to her wonders a great deal at what she secs. Her eyes are deep blue and health glows in her chubby pink cheeks and crimson lips. She is bound for Minnesota to join her father and four stalwart brothers. Domesticity is her chief characteristic, and it will develop and expand on the farm whither she is going.
She will be the mother of many children, and their slave. She has in her those inherited traits which destine her to a life of happy servitude in the home. She will take a hand in harvesting the crops, and if you speak to her of the equality of sexes she will smile and perhaps she will say, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Carlito, the restless urchin who is giving all sorts of trouble to his parents and the inspectors, is enjoying life immensely. Chasing goats along the banks of the Tagus was not half so much fun as this. He darts in and out on the dock and in the barge, upsetting other children and making life miserable for grown up people.
He inwardly wishes that his Portuguese friends with whom he used to play at bull fighting could see him now. He brings to America the recklessness of his race, its cunning, its violence of temper, and its love of ease. All these things he injects in the blood of the nation he is adopting, and to it he will add a touch of poetry and a drop of the essence of chivalry.
It is this racial melange of which the child of every race admitted into this country is an element, which gives an ethnological interest to their individualities. As certainly as the needle points to the pole, each and every one of these individualities will blend into the national blood and temperament. In this, there is a grave menace, where in the past there was a great bounty.
Thirty years ago the nation was enriched by the Anglo-Saxon while today it is perhaps being impoverished by the Latin, the Hebrew, and the Slavonic, the scum of Italy and the Armenian types who come to make money and go home again.
It is the diluting of the nation's blood with so much devitalized fluid that appalls one. When studied at close range, and in the near future this may become a great danger to the welfare of the nation. The present upheavals in Russia will be accountable for sending thousands of an undesirable class to our shores and fully twenty-five per cent of them will be children.
Animalism is betrayed in the faces of many, vitality and cunning, but this is only physical. Morally, many of them, are poor in ideas and deficient in higher principles, and from this class come the street Arabs and sneak thieves. .Many of them from heredity are imbued with the spirit of mendicancy and to them gratuities are as earnings. In six months they will have learned the language and in less time than that, many of them will have learned to short change their customers, shoot craps and perhaps pick pockets.
The little Pollack girl is heir to the sweat shop of New York and to its vermin haunted slums. Deliberately exiled from school perhaps by rapacious parents, she will be sent to some Grand street factory, there to earn thirty cents a day, at the expense of physical, mental and moral health.
She will have for companions in misery and depravity other girls who came over on the same steamer with her, whose parents, instead of going out into the broad West, where possibilities are great, the air pure and sweet and invigorating, will colonize in the densely populated slums of New York and suffer untold miseries with thousands of others in their class.
Thus they pass the great clearing house of Uncle Sam on the island in the upper bay, one by one, each with his particular trait, racial or otherwise, each a seed that will germinate and grow into a weed or into a flower, and tomorrow it will be the same and the day after and the day after that.
Adams, Joseph Henry, "The Child Immigrant," in The Home Missionary, Volume LXXIX, No. 10, March 1906.
Joseph Henry Adams is the Author of " The Tragedy of the Excluded"