And They Came This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

   As we stepped from the world we knew onto the tinyisland, there was silence, except for the salty wind rustling the leaves above.An eerie feeling that we were not alone came over me. Even the trees seemed tobreathe memories from their innermost depths - trees that had been there longbefore I was born, witnessing the hopes, dreams and sorrows of the many whopassed this way long ago. A guide with a thick Brooklyn accent pointed us towardthe main building. "Try not to take too long. This place is supposed toclose in 15 minutes. Besides, there's not much to see in the first place,"he stated frankly. They were starting to close for the night, but because we hadalready paid for the boat, he decided to let us in anyway. Not for a real tour,of course, just a stroll around the grounds of Ellis Island.

We ambledinto the atrium of the main building, and the magnificence of the roompractically took the air out of me. There was a secrecy that seemed to seep fromthe bare, cold walls and the old wooden floors and wash all around me like aghost. As the tiniest noises echoed off the high arched ceilings, it was almostas if the immigrants were still there. I could see them around me: on thebenches, sitting on carpetbags, huddled in the corners. Sick babies cried, oldpeople in rags shivered from the cold and frail parents pricked their own fingersto wipe blood on their children's pallid cheeks so they might appear healthy. Amillion words in a hundred languages hovered in the air for a moment likebutterflies, then blindly flitted off into oblivion as the multitudes awaited themoment of judgment that would change their lives forever. Families were tornapart as loved ones were detained or even denied admission to the United Statesand had to be left behind.

"How lucky our family was to arrive inthis Promised Land and still be together," sighed my aunt as she stared outthe window, and I wondered if she could see what I was seeing. Her voice brokethe silence and sent the ghosts of my imagination back into thewalls.

Across the atrium were several rooms, each barred by a heavy woodendoor. We attempted to enter one and the door creaked open. A musty smell driftedout and we proceeded inside the tiny room. Cots took up just about all the spacefrom floor to ceiling and wall to wall. In the corners stood great white marblepillars, each covered in etchings. It may have been graffiti, but it was alsomuch more. Not only were people's names and messages scratched into the stone,but also drawings. In the handwriting of children, these pictures portrayedghastly events. One showed a little stick figure in a dress being lynched, whileothers depicted fierce-looking soldiers with guns; still others showed bodieswith their arms crossed over their chests.

We left the tiny room anddecided to meander around the gardens and enjoy the last bit of daylight. The suncast long shadows and exaggerated every movement, almost as if the world were inan altered state of consciousness. Reds were auburn and blues were a muted shadeof green. We soon reached the far side of the island, where a monument stood toall the immigrants who had passed the stringent health and intelligence exams andwere allowed to pass through to "The Land of the Free." On hundreds ofsilver plaques, each about four feet tall and in rows that stretched a quarter ofthe way around the island, the immigrants' names were inscribed in tinyletters.

We spread out to search for any that might sound familiar,knowing that our relatives had been among the masses to enter the country throughEllis Island. Soon my little brother announced with pride that he had foundPhilip Freedenberg, our grandmother's father. We gathered around to admire thepermanent mark our family had made on history. "Grandpoppy would be proud.Just a couple of poor Jewish immigrants, and honored by America herself," wemused.

As we boarded the boat and floated back over the dark water, Ithought how special it is to be an American, to be in a land where you have theright to be whoever you are and to have control over your own fate. I thought ofall the people who come to this country every day, risking their lives for abrighter future. Almost all become Americans and never turn their backs on theiradopted country, even though their experiences here are seldom the paradise theyexpected. Whenever it is said that immigrants do not belong, that they are notgood Americans, we must remember that it was immigrants who founded and are thebuilding blocks of this country. We must always remember the days when freedomwas, for us or our families, something never taken for granted.

A chillybreeze blew in off the harbor and the sun began slipping below the horizondirectly behind the Statue of Liberty, giving her a radiant glow. Even in her oldage, she has not lost the magnificence that drew the weary immigrants' eyestoward her gleaming torch. One could almost hear a soft but strong voicebeckoning, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning tobreathe free," summoning the downcast from all corners of the world. Andthey came.

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This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the December 2000 Teen Ink Travel Contest.

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