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If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island

by Ellen Levine

Arranged in Q&A style, this survey of earlier immigrations asks: “Did all immigrants come through Ellis Island?” (no); “Did you have to have a job waiting for you?” (again, no; in fact, it was not allowed). It’s evident that America has always been a polyglot magnet–even in 1643, 18 languages were spoken in one colonial area. It’s also evident that there’s been long-standing prejudice against certain immigrants (ability to read was required for entrance, and first and second class arrivals didn’t have to sweat it out at Ellis Island). Perhaps most interesting here are the individual stories: the name change in the author’s own family; the child who had never seen a banana and ate it whole; the “six- second” medical exam. Levine (If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, 1986) gives multiculturalism an extra boost by ending with a sampling of words and other contributions from many heritages.