ISLAND OF HOPE, ISLAND OF TEARS by David M.; Irene Franck & Douglass L. Brownstone Brownstone


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The immigrant experience has slipped into the mainstream of American consciousness and folklore, and these interviews with two dozen immigrants who passed through Ellis Island between 1901 and the late 1920s add nothing to the familiar tale. They came, we learn, because they were hungry, poor, and oppressed, and they expected milk-and-honey, work, and freedom. The authors claim that their subjects are ""wonderful people--bright, alert, enormously alive and very, very wise,"" but they never pose the questions which would reveal these qualities. Their commentary seldom transcends the maudlin; faced with the possibility that a member of an immigrant family might be rejected for some real or specious health reason, they ask rhetorically: ""Would the whole family return [to Europe] or be broken forever at the Island of Tears?"" The historical context is on the same nonspecific level (""It was a time of czars, kings, emperors, and sultans""). On the actual immigration process and its ills-corruption, unsanitary conditions, bureaucracy, and confusion--their discussion is only of limited value. LaGuardia's role in reform is mentioned. The news that many famous Americans are immigrants is revealed. The hardships of passage and processing are, however, fully conveyed--from the seasickness to the public stripping for delousing or examination and the attendant fears (doctors pulled eyelids back with buttonhooks to look for trachoma). But the stories are all upbeat inspirational tales. The myths are never questioned and the experience is never enlarged.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Rawson, Wade--dist. by Atheneum