Passages to America


Passages to America

Oral Histories of Child Immigrants from Ellis Island and Angel Island

Emmy E. Werner

208 pages


August 2009


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

September 2011


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About the Book

More than twelve million immigrants, many of them children, passed through Ellis Island’s gates between 1892 and 1954. Children also came through the “Guardian of the Western Gate,” the detention center on Angel Island in California that was designed to keep Chinese immigrants out of the United States. Based on the oral histories of fifty children who came to the United States before 1950, this book chronicles their American odyssey against the backdrop of World Wars I and II, the rise and fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, and the hardships of the Great Depression. Ranging in age from four to sixteen years old, the children hailed from Northern, Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe; the Middle East; and China.

Across ethnic lines, the child immigrants’ life stories tell a remarkable tale of human resilience. The sources of family and community support that they relied on, their educational aims and accomplishments, their hard work, and their optimism about the future are just as crucial today for the new immigrants of the twenty-first century. These personal narratives offer unique perspectives on the psychological experience of being an immigrant child and its impact on later development and well-being. They chronicle the joys and sorrows, the aspirations and achievements, and the challenges that these small strangers faced while becoming grown citizens.

Author Bio

Emmy E. Werner is the author of In Pursuit of Liberty: Coming of Age in the American Revolution, A Conspiracy of Decency: The Rescue of Danish Jews During World War II, Through the Eyes of Innocents: Children Witness World War II, and Reluctant Witnesses: Children’s Voices From the Civil War. She currently lives in Berkeley, California.


“This book, a rich and remarkable cornucopia of first-hand accounts of immigration by children from the 1880s to the 1950s, allows us to grasp the human meaning of migration. We learn, in vivid, forceful language, what it is like to leave one’s homeland and adjust to an alien environment. We not only discover the hardships that children from Britain, China, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia, and Turkey faced—the culture shocks, the language barriers, and the grinding poverty—but how they were able to surmount adversity and privation. As new generations of child immigrants enter the United States, these accounts help us understand what today’s children from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America go through as they make the passage to America.”—Steven Mintz, professor of history, Columbia University, and author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood

“Memory and migration merge in this study that explores the oral reminiscences of the elderly as they reflect on a dramatic moment in their childhood: that of passing through one of America’s strictest immigrant control stations, Ellis or Angel Island. With this book, Emmy Werner makes a valuable contribution to the study of childhood.”—Barry Moreno, historian, The Bob Hope Memorial Library at Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty National Monument

"No other historian has given us more voices from children in difficult circumstances than Emmy Werner. In this wonderful book, she takes us to the American entrepots of Ellis Island and Angel Island and introduces us to the many children who came from around the world to the United States in the past century and one half, alone or with their families. We can see the new world from their perspectives. At a time when children are moving more than ever to strange places, Werner's book gives us a much needed historical chapter that shows how children view these changes and how they learn to cope."—Paula Fass, Margaret Byrne Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Children of a New World

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