Tiny crystals hanging from the ceiling, sunrays are striking through them.
Under the chandelier, there’s a messy writer’s desk; a magnificent light, falling
upon the pens and notebook.
For thirty years I have lived here, in this small town, just outside of
Schenectady, New York. My nieces and nephews used to run around the garden
here when they were young. But time has passed and it’s 1954 and they have
grown and they have their own gardens now. And I am sitting in the fading sun on
a Saturday afternoon, watching the hummingbirds hover above their flowers.
Today, dear cousin Anna, I read that Ellis Island is closing and I thought of
you. Like me you are old now, but you are older than me. It was 1892 when you
crossed the ocean to start a new life here in the United States. You were a small
child and one of the first to cross that border at Ellis Island (“Interactive Tour of Ellis
I, too, was a child when I arrived, years later. Please excuse me while I
indulge and remember my own journey…
An old wooden railing, engraved in the ends. A little bed with purple covers,
and a teddy bear on the corner of the room. The place where it all began.
I remember my 12th birthday perfectly. I recall every word my mother said.
“Iris, he didn’t make it. We need to accept this is happening. It’s
the only way, we ́ll be able to keep living our lives.”
My house held so many memories of that day, of that war, of that life.
And so did Russia…
I knew that going to the United States would be the change and safety we
needed. Blank pages that we would fill with this experience, turning this new
beginning into an old written book; into memories…
My mother could hardly afford the trip. But tickets in hand, my mother, my
brother Kellin, just a little boy, and myself boarded the ship to New York, to a new
life (Canales, G & Hillman-Stolz, S). We traveled for more than week. A storm
caught us off guard, delaying the voyage.
We could hardly breathe in the steerage quarters. I couldn ́t stand it
(Canales, G & Hillman-Stolz, S). Sometimes, when I remember that tiny space, I
picture myself underwater, just the way I did then. I said to myself that I was
holding my breath swimming, but one day, I would resurface again. This way,
instead of thinking about that place, I looked around and pictured fish. Each of
them was of a different color. They created a rainbow, mirrored in my deep eyes,
as if the ocean was inside of me. As if the storm that raged outside, could be found
my heart as well.
“Iris, please promise me that you are going to take care of
your mother and Kellin. The Kharitonov family needs to stick
together today, tomorrow and forever.” (“Ivan Kharitonov”)
The voice of my father, telling me not to give up, giving me strength, giving
me hope. When the tsar, Nicholas II and the whole Romanov family were killed, in
Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918, two days before my birthday; that’s when my father
was killed. He was a cook for the Romanov family. (“Shooting of the Romanov
I missed my father.
Every night I hugged my mother and Kellin. It was burning hot with so many
people around us, but I didn ́t care, I didn ́t want to lose any more of my loved
One night, Kellin’s his eyes began itching but we thought nothing of it.
Seasickness, we thought. (“Interactive tour of Ellis Island”)
We finally arrived at Ellis Island. But we still had a long way to go. We got
into a straight line, were told to take off our clothes, and our naked bodies were
examined. We waited. Fearing the worst. After sometime, we were given our
clothes; cleaned and perfectly folded. The lice from the bunks on the boat had
been killed and I was grateful for fresh smelling clothes (Canales, G & Hillman-
Then we went for medical testing, but as we were about to leave, a tall,
white man took Kellin by the hand and marked an “X” in his back with a white chalk
(“Interactive tour of Ellis Island”). My mother burst into tears. I didn ́t know what
was happening. My mother told me that Kellin might have had trachoma, a blinding
infectious eye disease caused by a bacteria (“what is trachoma”). And he might be
sent back to Russia.
It was way too much for me to process. Another line. A short man in uniform
started to ask me questions: Name? Nationality? Age?… then, “Why did you come
to the United states?” I couldn’t answer. I ́d lost all hope, all faith. My father was
gone, I had no home, and Kellin might be returned to Russia.
“Iris.” It was the short officer.
Iris… I love my name. Iris is a tall plant with a purple, white or yellow flowers
(“Iris”). My name means hope, faith, and wisdom. Now, I needed to honor it.
I took my mother ́s hand and held it close to my heart and thought of the
words of my mother and my father. A spark ignited in my eyes, coming directly
from my soul.
“To start again” I answered him. “to hold my destiny close, to embrace my
past, to live my present, to enjoy it and to see what the future holds for me.” The
officer nodded and stamped my documents.
“The only thing I could do, was to let my memory rest, sleep, but never
forget what I had lost” (Armstrong, Billie Joe).
That’s when I saw this handsome little kid with a smile on his face, running
towards us. Kellin. His sleep deprived eyes, still itchy and red.
I held my mother and Kellin tightly. I tried to freeze that moment, to frame it.
It didn ́t matter that we ́d left our house or our country because I knew, that home
was wherever I was with them.
My story reminds me of the old legend about hummingbirds. Did you know,
Ana, that they are the only birds that can fly backwards? I realised then, that I
could too. I could “visit” my past, I could hover and live in this present moment, but
soon I would fly toward my future, in this land where dreams come true…
Un trabajo escrito por Mariana González De Los Ríos
1) Armstrong, Billie Joe. “Wake me up when September Ends” song lyrics. release
2) Canales, Gaby and Hillman-Stolz, Sarah “Arriving to Ellis Island”, In class
powerpoint presentation: Colegio Monteverde, Mexico City, 2014
3) “Interactive Tour of Ellis Island”. Scholastic Inc, 2014. Web. 10 Dec 2014
4)“Iris” Cambridge Dictionary. Web. Dec, 2014
5) “Ivan Kharitonov”. Famousfix. Web. Dec 2014
6) “Shooting of the Romanov family” wikipedia. Web. Dec 2014
7)!“What is Tracoma” medicinenet. Web. Dec 2014