Friday, March 23, 2012

"The Immigrants"

One of my morning exercise routes is along the East River from the Brooklyn Bridge to Battery Park, about a 3-mile round trip.  At the southern tip of Manhattan Island, Battery Park is appropriately named for the artillery batteries constructed there in 1683 to protect the settlement of New Amsterdam, later New York.  Sidewalks weave around the bases of monuments, statues, sculptures and memorials, each telling its own story of the city's history.  I rarely slow my aerobic pace long enough to read inscriptions, thinking as I pass by, "I'll do that another time," but never have.

Last week, however, faces stopped me. Faces pleaded for me to listen to their stories, to learn of their lives, to take a piece of their struggles away with me.  So I did.

The "Immigrants" freezes people in time, the minute their feet touch the soil of their new lives, then casts them forever in bronze.  The sculptor, Luis Sanguino, portrays the range of travelers who landed on the shore of New York Harbor between 1855-1890, when the southern end of Battery Park was a processing center, prior to the opening of Ellis Island. Among those Sanguino included in his work are an Eastern European Jew, a freed African slave, a priest, a worker and his family.

Through the lens of my camera, I tried to see more than the whole, to focus on one, then another.

Could I put myself in the mother's place, caressing her tiny baby, her husband carrying all they owned in the sack on his back?


                   Could I ever feel the depth of gratitude expressed by the freed slave or the praying woman? 

And the most haunting face of all, the priest, his mouth open and palm extended, as if asking, "Why?  Why was I forced to leave my own country, the country of my family, my faith?"  


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