As I sit in this great rounded room of dirty off-white walls, closed counter windows and skylights, I am met with a barrage of curious and occasionally derisive glances. The eyes of nameless strangers seem to ask, “Who is this girl queuing for an immigration window that won’t open for another two hours?” I answer their unspoken question with an absent smile. The reason I have arrived at the immigration window two hours early is quite simple: I am determined to never come back!
The first time I arrived at the Garda station to get registered with immigration, I came at the exact time immigration opened. Two hours later, the time was up and the window closed, leaving me far from making it in time. The second attempt I arrived an hour early, only to have the time run out and window close with two people in front of me. The third time I made sure to arrive an hour and a half early to ensure that I would have enough time, which I did, only to make to the window and realize that for some reason unbeknownst to me, I had removed my wallet from my purse and left it sitting on my bedroom dresser, a 30 minute walk away. I left in frustrated tears.
At this, my fourth try, I have arrived a full two hours early, prepared with multiple means of distractions. I am first in line and am bound and determined that this time at immigration will be my last time. After the third attempt I yelled in frustration to my somewhat startled flatmates, “I just want to go home where I belong! I hate these long lines, and people who cut in front, and the hours of waiting. I just want to go back to my family!” Granted, my outburst was a bit unnecessary and mostly instigated by the previous night’s tear-jerking pleas from my five little sisters to come home, but my outburst did force me to realize that my conditions in comparison to others who have faced the immigration process is undoubtedly better.
I look at pictures of Ellis Island and can’t help but think about the circumstances of those who went through this process long before I did. My own relatives, an unknown number of generations ago, came through Ellis Island from Ireland. When I stop and think about what they went through, I respect the strength and determination they had. The only reason to put yourself and loved ones through such an unpleasant task is that you must truly believe that the life that awaits you outside that immigration building of cages, queues and questions will be infinitely better than the life you have left behind.
The section of American Literature and Film we have been focusing on for the last four weeks has been all about immigration and race. The main focal point of our studies has been about the children born in America to immigrant parents. We get so few glimpses into the life of the parents of these children, however. We receive only snapshots of the circumstances in the lives of those individuals that finally flipped that switch of decision to leave their home country. We see very little of the journey from the land of their ancestors to the new world of the unknown, the process of the immigration, and the settling into their new lives.
My curiosity peaked by this marvel of vigor and fortitude, I began to look up images of Ellis Island and became haunted by the faces of thousands of people packed onto ships and crammed into queues, and just waiting for their turn at the immigration window. How many thousands of others did they see in similar situations? How many hours did they spend waiting? How horrible were the conditions in the ships that brought them to the new world? Yet here was I, thinking of the maybe 200 people I had seen waiting with me in line, of the eight hours I had waited, and remembered the set of three flights that totaled what I thought to be an incredibly long 15 hours. Where did I go when I ran out of time and didn’t make it to the immigration window? I went back to my apartment and slept in my warm bed. Where did these people at Ellis Island have to go? I showed a proof of insurance, while they went through health screenings, isolation for sickness, and rejection if their cough sounded too bad. I brought a bank statement showing my current account balance, they brought all the worldly possessions they could manage.
Two and a half hours later, with a line stretching halfway around the room behind me, I walk away from the window, immigration card in my hand and a relieved smile on my face. Suddenly, having a card that says I belong in this country makes me feel like I really do, for at least another year, anyway. If I decide to stay longer than the end of September, I’m faced with doing everything over again. As I walk out the door of the garda station, I hear an exasperated sigh of someone in line and wonder if they would change their mind about their current situation, as I have, if they knew what past immigrants had to go through.
All images taken from Google.