Quotes in The National on Ellis Island Immigration

Alasdair Soussi interviewed me for the UAE newspaper The National for their magazine section in a story about immigration to Ellis Island, particularly from the Arab world.

Below are the relevant quotes.

On reasons for immigration:
But not all Arabs became pedlars. Some, such as George Ajjan’s descendants, were drawn to the gates of Ellis Island by a very different profession.

Ajjan, a resident of New Jersey, and one of about 3.5 million Arab-Americans, can trace his family line back to early 20th century Syria when all sides of his Christian-Arab family left Aleppo to try their luck in the most dynamic country on earth.

"They were all drawn to the United States because of the silk industry," says 33-year-old Ajjan, a prominent US political analyst and entrepreneur.

"Aleppo was a major silk producer. They ended up in Paterson, New Jersey, which was known as Silk City, so that was basically what drew them. For many Arabs at that time, the idea was to go to the land of opportunity, strike it rich, and after five or 10 years, to come back and live the life of an aristocrat. But I think assimilating and leaving behind that life just became a reality that was insurmountable."

On the impact of health concerns:
Though most immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were admitted, many of those who were not – on the grounds of disease or the grandly titled Moral Turpitude – used their initiative to great effect, as Ajjan explains.

"We have relatives who we still keep in touch with in Mexico on my father's mother's side. When they arrived in New York, they failed an inspection on Ellis Island for trachoma, and instead of going back on a boat to their home country, they chose to go on a boat that took them down to Mexico. Many of the Arab immigrants who ended up scattered around Latin America, whether Argentina, Brazil or Mexico, for instance, were initially intending to head to the United States but ended up in Latin America because they failed the health requirements."
On the differences between early 20th century immigration and today's immigration:
"At the time when Ellis Island was active, there wasn’t this [political] stigma against Arabs as there is today," says Ajjan, whose grandfathers fought for America in the Second World War while maintaining their Arab heritage. "Back then they were just another garlic-eating ethnic group that was viewed as something foreign to white Anglo-Saxon America, whereas today, there's a whole bunch of political overtones that are associated with immigration."