Manhattan was my first experience of America way back in 1995. It was the summer of the OJ Simpson trials, the city was changing under mayor Rudy Giuliani and the city was alive as it was Independence weekend. Along with my travel companion Irene, we walked the streets visiting landmarks and enjoying the ambiance of the celebrations. One landmark we did not visit, probably due to the long queues, was the Statue of Liberty. When a day out in New York from New Jersey was proposed visiting this symbol of America was top of my list. The ferry to the statue and Ellis Island were booked along with access into the statue itself to the pedestal (very limited access to the crown).
A short ride across New York Harbour at the mouth of the Hudson River lies Liberty Island. Frederic Bartholdi’s sculpture of a robed female figure bearing a torch and a tablet was a gift to the United States from France in 1886. Inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4th 1776 the statue was a symbol of freedom and hope to the millions of immigrants arriving in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
This statue warmed the hearts of those new immigrants but the reality of starting their new lives would hit when they arrived at Ellis Island. This island which previously housed Fort George was to become the first port of call for over 12 million immigrants as they were processed at America’s busiest immigration inspection station from 1892 when it opened until 1954. Individuals and families were questioned and underwent medical inspections within the building which now houses exhibitions telling their stories. From the many reasons for immigration, the journeys they made and the struggles and challenges which faced them on arrival the audio and visual displays are a fitting tribute to these new citizens.
The day began with a lunch in a typical Manhattan pizza pie parlour and continued with dinner in China Town. Walking through the streets of China Town with offers of fake designer bags and watches and the array of random items in the shops around: I could have been in parts of Dubai or Hong Kong! The day ended with a visit to the razz-ma-razz heart of Manhattan, Time Square. With street performers and the array of flashing lights and images on the buildings on the square and the streets around it was a fitting end to a day of history and local colour.
New York, you have gone through some very difficult times since I saw you last. However, with your spirit of hope and the strength of your people you are bigger, better and continue to be an inspirational place to visit. I will see you again very soon.