Family Stories: Ellis Island

My great-grandparents were born and raised in a small town inland of Naples, Italy. Mariglianella was a small community of farmers at the time. My great-grandparents, Pasquale and Carmela, likely didn’t have anything past an eighth-grade education. In the 1920s, Pasquale came to America, and Carmela joined soon after. They sailed from Naples into New York City – Ellis Island, to be exact. My grandfather, Pasquale Mariano Dimaio, is their youngest child.

My senior year of high school, the honors choir of which I was a member was invited to sing in a larger choir at Carnegie Hall. We took the train up from Washington on a sunny spring day and stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel. We spent half our days sightseeing, and the other half learning and rehearsing the music for the performance. We saw Pippin at the Music Box Theater, wandered around Times Square, and, my favorite activity, took the ferry to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island.

I’d wanted to go to Ellis Island ever since I had done a project in the eighth grade on my great-grandparents and learned their story. It had always held an attraction for me, even before then. I’ve always loved history, and abandoned places, and much of Ellis Island is decrepit. I’ve always loved the stories of hopeful immigrants coming to America to make a better life – I still do.

Going through the museum was a great experience. I loved seeing the history of immigration in the United States. But my excitement mounted when I moved outdoors to the wall. All over the island, winding here and there and everywhere, was a silver wall, full of names. I searched and searched, and couldn’t find my family’s names. I knew they were there, though. Imagine my delight when I saw their names! I touched the letters tenderly and almost cried. Because of these two people, I am able to live the life I do. They had a dream, and I am a result of it. I am eternally grateful to them for their courage and tenacity.

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Student. DC area native. Lover of literature, my rescue dog, good food, and the sea.

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