Bringing History to life – The endurance of Immigrants


Picture yourself in a place where people don’t allow you to think what you want to think, believe what you want to believe, and do what you want to do, isn’t that torture? Also, picture yourself being in a place where you are forced and never given a job to run your family. Have you ever suffered that way?

Have you ever starved for food like the people who lived all around the world and have suffered in difficult situations? Have you ever thought how much poor immigrants struggle to come to America? Immigrants are people who came to America for specific reasons such as to get freedom, jobs, money, food, and a happy life and survive wars in their country.

America is where you would be free from religious problems and other problems that you face in your home country. First, people decided that they have to move to America because it will be safer there in America than here for them and their families.

Next, they bought tickets for the steerage part of the ship to travel to America. Then, they waited in long lines at Ellis Island to be inspected.

At last, the immigrants started a new life and lived in tenements. The immigrants had to make a hard journey, but they have not been afraid to do so. After all, they knew it was for a good life that they are making this journey.

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Chapter 1: Push and Pull factors

There were many push factors that made people leave their native countries and there were many pull factors that made many people come to America. As you may or may not know, push factors are reasons that are disadvantages that make people leave their native country. For instance, many people left their native countries because there were big droughts that led people to poverty.

Drought happens when there is no rain and crops do not grow well. An example of a drought is a potato famine in Ireland when poverty happened and there was no food or water. 

The people starved for food. There were many starvation situations when there was a drought. There were many reasons such as religious problems, spreadable diseases, and environmental disasters too. Religious problems are when people are forced to believe in other religions.

For example, if you believe in something they do not think is worthy, then you would be forced to change and believe in what they believe. Many people had dreams to come to America and change their poor life. Many people were poor and couldn’t afford any food or medications.  This was because many people did not get jobs and women were not allowed. There were big wars going on and many people wanted to keep their families safe. 

So, many people immigrated to America since the place was safe and clean, unlike their home country. Many people had severe allergies and diseases that were spreadable.

Some people wanted their children’s future to be good. Another example is, the school systems were not really good in their home countries and America provided an excellent education. In addition, people were not allowed to vote, they did not get good health care, their food supply was not allowed and all of them were treated unfairly.

 Some countries were really cold and some were really hot. As there were many push factors there were also pull factors that urged people to come to America. Pull factors are factors that attract people with good reasons to come to America.

For example, many people wanted to come to America because they can get religious freedom. Religious freedom is when people get to believe what they think and are allowed to practice their traditions. There are also many other reasons people immigrated to America. 

Some reasons are that the weather is not too cold or too hot, they have great laws and orders to be respected, emergency health care is provided and schools provide quality education. America has laws and orders that are compulsory and certain laws that need to be followed to keep the country more peaceful. Many came here for wealth, money, and jobs because in America people can get jobs and earn loads of money.

For instance, in America, women are allowed to go to jobs and that can add to family wealth. People wanted this way to earn money for their families. There were some big reasons lots of people came to America. It was the California gold rush, and safety.

There are lots of natural resources in America that people want. Another reason people were pulled to America was no overcrowding. In their home countries, there was a lot of overcrowding that sometimes even caused diseases throughout a crowd. As you can see, there were many push factors that pushed people out of the land and many pull factors that pulled the people into America. 

Chapter 2: Steerage 

Some people decided to go to America, to which they have to take a hard steerage journey. Steerage was the lowest part of the ship. Many people were poor and could only afford a steerage journey. There were also first-class and second-class people who traveled in the upper section of the boat. First-class and second-class people were more wealthy than third-class people.

And third class people were these poor immigrants who traveled on steerage to America. First, these people have to buy tickets for the steerage. These people sold their things such as their bed and cots, their refrigerator, etc., and sold these things for money to buy tickets. 

Steerage was not really a good place to travel for 14 days. Immigrants traveled by foot, then wagons and trains to the port. First, before getting into the boat, passengers have to take an antiseptic bath to stop diseases from spreading. They also have to protect their luggage from smoke or their luggage will be infected.

Then, they will be examined by doctors before boarding. The immigrants had to travel in the dirty steerage part for a long time. Sometimes, diseases such as measles or other diseases break out on the ship and people die. 

First-class and second-class passengers had private cabins to enjoy while third-class passengers had no place to sleep. They had to sleep on the deck of the ship or on some kind of seat. These seats were called bunks. People wouldn’t be able to get up since other passengers could take their bunks. Sometimes there were also Burlap bunks. Burlap bunks were lucky because these beds were covered and filled with straw or seaweed.

 Other bunks were narrow and hard without any beds. Most people were seasick because they did not go to the deck to get fresh air. Freshwater was only available on the deck. Because it is on the deck, people did not go there much to get a spot to sit or sleep. The area was gross and dirty.

Steerage was not really lit up, it was really dark and people did not have privacy between each other and also had a lack of sanitation. The steerage part did not get fresh air because it was at the bottom of the ship and closed. 

They got stuffy air. Generally, because people were all tightly squished together, often diseases started spreading. There were a lot of cockroaches and other insects that infected the people in the steerage. The third-class people did not get to eat much nicer food either.

They got moldy cheeses and moldy biscuits, but first and second-class people enjoyed a big dinner feast with every kind of food. All in all, third-class passengers did not enjoy it and had a lot of problems on their way to America.

Chapter 3 – Ellis Island

The immigrants have to go through Ellis Island to America. Ellis Island was a building that was made to inspect passengers to see if they are eligible to enter and stay in America. At first, the boat comes through the New York harbor, and past the Statue of Liberty. Many people enjoy the view from the top of the ship. Most people thought the Statue of Liberty was a symbol of hope to the people to pass the inspections. Ellis Island was open from 1892 to 1952. 

More than 12 million people came to America each year. Ellis Island was only built for 500 or more people to come, but it was crowded with more than 10,000 people.

Many of the immigrants traveled through the Atlantic Ocean from the east. Before they got off the boat, they were tested once more just like at the beginning of the trip. The first-class and second-class passengers were allowed to enter America without any inspection due to their clean clothes and luggage but third-class passengers had to wait a bit longer and attend weeks of inspections to enter America. 

Most immigrants did not speak English or did not understand English. So, there were many language translators to help the immigrants. First, when they got out of the boat, people were to drop their luggage at the baggage room before going to the main hall. There was no luggage restriction. Immigrants carried whatever they could to America.

We’ve come a long way, but we can’t go back now


The main hall is a big place that could hold lots of people and there were lines set for the immigrants to stand to take the 6-second physical test. The 6-second physical test was taken to check their health conditions to allow them through to the next test before entering America. They call it a 6-second physical exam because it is a very fast test that only takes 5-6 seconds to check.

If they did not pass the 6-second physical exam, they would be held back in one of the hospital rooms and given further examinations. 

For example, if you had an eye problem, then they would mark an E in your coat and send you to the next examination. At last, they have to go through a legal inspection and an oral exam.  They would ask the immigrants some questions to know if they are capable of living in America. 

For instance, some questions are, “How much money do you have?”, “Do you know English?”,” What work can you do here?” etc. Sometimes if passengers give an answer that is very different, or if they suspect the passenger’s answers, then they would get in trouble and might have to answer more questions. Another expectation to go to America is that you have to be at least 18 years old to be processed. 

But after some years of inspection, the first building of Ellis Island burnt down. Workers then built a more stable and fireproof building.

The inspectors helped a lot to get your new life as fast as they can. Annie Moore was the first immigrant to be processed in 1892. She was only 15 years old. Many immigrants were turned away and called Ellis Island the island of tears. They thought Ellis Island was a setup to turn away the people who were having health or money problems. To sum it up, many immigrants went through Ellis Island and started their new life in America. 

ellis island_bringing history to life

Chapter 4- Tenement living

As you read from the last chapter, most of the immigrants passed the inspections and started a new life in America. Finally, people had gone through the hard journey to America and succeeded. When they finally passed through Ellis Island they found a tenement. A tenement is a building that is just like an apartment. Or in other words, they were the early apartments. 

If you think about it, they were not as perfect and clean and big as the apartments we live in today. People had to pay rent for the houses. The newcomers did not leave the tenement houses until they found a job and earned enough money to buy a house or move to a bigger and neater house or tenement. The houses at least had 3-4 rooms. 

Tenement homes

The front rooms were bright and nice but the back rooms did not get sunlight and the air was stuffy. People made more money than in their home countries. There was also an opportunity for women to get a job and make money.

Most people did not earn enough money sometimes to pay the rent. So, some families decided to take on borders to save money. Taking borders is sharing the house. That means one family takes the front rooms and the other family takes the back rooms and they share the kitchen and bathrooms. 

According to the text in the article “Tenement Living,” one family pays half of the rent and the other pays the other half rent to the house owner. For instance, if they share everything that means there would be 8-10 people in the room. This is because their families are always big. 

Immigrants also come here to join their families. So they often squished sometimes. People who already lived were not nice to new immigrants who just found a house because they thought these immigrants would take over their jobs. All in all, immigrants came here and lived in tenement buildings. They finally got away from the threatening problems in their home countries.


Clearly, as I had stated in the first chapter, people in their home countries suffered because of poverty, religious freedom, and financial problems. People figured they would come to America since they can all have jobs, practice any religions they want, and don’t need to suffer in poverty. Even though they had to risk everything to buy tickets and come on the ship, people never gave up because they knew that they’d have a better life in America.

They came through challenges; rode on the steerage where there was no privacy and people crowded up, and attended inspections, and answered questions even though they didn’t know English. At last, in the end, they could earn money and buy bigger houses so they and their children could live happily.

Immigration is an important history in America because people from other countries have helped improve it. All the immigrants have made America unique, making it a country where people from different countries, different religions, and people who have different cultures.

To learn more about how immigrants underwent testing and how they were processed in Ellis Island, read this interesting post on –

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