New Exhibit at Ellis Island Explores the Past, Present, and Future of the Immigrant Experience

Since the birth of our nation, hopeful, hardworking, and talented immigrants have come to America in search of a better life and the chance to achieve success and prosperity. The freedom to dream big, and to make those dreams a reality, is what sets us apart from all other nations, and is what drives generation after generation of immigrants to leave the familiar comfort of their native countries for the unique opportunities that come with living and working in the United States.

For over fifty years, Ellis Island was the gateway into America for millions of immigrants who journeyed to our shores to begin life anew. Located in Upper New York Bay and considered part of New York City, it was the busiest inspection immigration station in the nation from the beginning of the 20th century until its permanent closure in 1954. Since its closure, Ellis Island has become an American icon and a symbol of hope for immigrants who come here in pursuit of their dreams. But a new exhibition at the museum dedicated to Ellis Island’s history poses an interesting question – what was arriving in America like for immigrants who came prior to Ellis Island’s opening? And how has the immigration experience progressed into modern times, more than 60 years after was Ellis Island closed?

The Peopling of America Center is a new series of major exhibitions set to open at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration (formerly known as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum) next month. The exhibition is divided into two main sections and seeks to explore the immigration experience pre- and post-Ellis Island’s active years. The pre-Ellis Island wing, “Journeys: The Peopling of America 1550’s-1890,” was completed in 2011 and documents the experience of America’s earliest immigrants, including NativeAmericans, those who arrived in America against their will, and Colonial era immigrants. The newly completed post-Ellis Island wing, “The Journey: New Eras of Immigration,” focuses on immigration from 1954 to the present day and into the future, and reflects on technology’s role in modern immigration and the complex challenges that new generations of immigrants now face in an increasingly competitive, globalized economy. [See Peopling of America Center at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration Opens 5/20, by Travel News Desk, Broadway World Travel, 29.Apr.2015.]

Rather than present itself as a traditional museum exhibit where visitors merely stare at artifacts through a glass barrier, The Peopling of America Center aims to make its guests a part of the immigrant experience with a focus on interactive elements. Graphics and audio stations weave first-hand accounts of immigrant journeys, brief film vignettes portray current generations of immigrants discussing life in modern America, and LCD panels display changing global migration patterns over the centuries. In addition to The Peopling of America Center expansion, the museum features other interactive exhibits such as The American Family Immigration History Center, where visitors can view passenger records of ships that landed at Ellis Island during its active early years, and the American Flag of Faces, a large scale video installation featuring a montage of images submitted by individuals of the families and ancestors that represents the diversity of the American demographic. [See Peopling of America Center, by The Status of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., Liberty Ellis Foundation.Org, 30.Apr.2015.]

The Peopling of America Center at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration celebrates an important symbol of immigration and its invaluable contribution to our nation. But it also goes deeper by telling the stories of our earliest immigrants, as well as exploring the immigrant experience of the 21st century and beyond. By weaving the past, present, and future, The Peopling of American Center presents a rich and complex overview of immigration to educate and be enjoyed by anyone who believes in the American dream.


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