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Immigration Project 2016

"Quintessentially American"

In April 2016, the UC Alumni Chorus, conducted by Dr. Mark Sumner, presented a concert inspired by powerful stories of immigration.

The UCAC is a microcosm of our "nation of immigrants". Some of us immigrated with families, or on our own, experiencing personally what it means to leave one homeland and adopt another; some have family histories in America reach far into the past; some of us have parents and grandparents who were among the 12 million immigrants entering the United State though Ellis Island. The centerpiece of the concert, "The Golden Door", was based on personal stories of people who passed through Ellis Island after it opened in 1892. This is not the whole story; immigrants arrived at numerous entry points around the country and at many times. But "The Golden Door" evokes feelings that were shared by all immigrants, whenever they came to America and wherever they arrived: desperation and hope; exultation upon arriving; fear and bewilderment; being strangers in a strange land.

Here is the programme for that concert.

UCAC Members' Immigrant Ancestors

While putting together this concert, members of the chorus began researching, remembering, and sharing the stories of how we came to be in the United States. We claim ancestry from as early as the first pilgrims at Plymouth Colony to chorus members themselves coming to this country in recent years. We have roots all over the world, from Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, and many places in between. We even discovered that some of us are distantly related.

We collected our members' own family immigration stories, with the kind of information that was collected and checked at Ellis Island:
  • Name
  • Relationship
  • When and where they arrived
  • Age at the time of arrival
  • Where they came from
  • Occupation
See the results of our survey,
and an interactive map showing where we came from

Our members suggest these resources for further study


  • A bibliography for immigration studies, -- Karen

  • The Emigrant Series by Vilhelm Moberg is possibly unrivaled in describing the experience of immigrants to the US during 1800's. The series consist of four thick novels: The Emigrants, Unto a Good Land, The Settlers, The Last Letter Home. Read and weep.

    For those who prefer a shorter time commitment, the novels have been adapted to various TV mini series and at least two movies. More recently (1995) ABBA also adapted the novels into a musical called Kristina. The music is absolutely superb. -- Freddy

  • Poems from the Immigration Station on Angel Island -- Jo

  • Rolvaag's epic "GIANTS IN THE EARTH". Put down whatever you are doing, except learning music, and read this book! Scandinavians come to settle the prairie. Long and excellent! -- Cricket E

  • I strongly recommend this book about the Pilgrim immigration: Nathaniel Philbrick, "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War", published by Penguin, 2006. The last section covers what is known as King Philip's War (1675-76) and its devastating consequences for both the Plymouth Colony and the native people --- an important part of our country's immigration story. Philbrick is a fine writer as well as scrupulous historian. -- Jo

  • Duo Wang's immigration story, and his essay My Olive Tree -- Duo

  • "Out of This Furnace". I read this as an assignment in a Cal history class (in the late 1980s), and found it sufficiently interesting that I've re-read it a couple of times in the years since then! I have no Slovak immigrant ancestors myself but the experience described in this book is not so unlike that of my Lithuanian immigrant ancestors. -- Holly

  • Very nice book "Sweet Promised Land" by Paul Laxalt. It is about his Basque immigrant father who was a sheepherder in Nevada. The book is about his life and a trip he made back to his home town late in life. -- David R.

  • List from Jessica M.
    "Funny in Farsi"
    "Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan
    "Surviving the Angel of Death" (Eva Kor is on Quora.com and answers questions)
    I've not read this one, but it looks good: "Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies"

  • For those with Irish ancestry, or anyone who enjoys fascinating history, I strongly recommend:
    Kathryn Miles, "All Standing: The True Story of Hunger, Rebellions, and Survival Aboard the Jeanie Johnston". I was enthralled by it! A reviewer writes: Miles, a professor of environmental writing at Unity College in Maine, is well-suited to tell the riveting tale of the only "coffin ship" to never lose a passenger during the great emigration from a famine-ravished Ireland.... More than 100,000 immigrants perished during their attempts to escape their blighted homeland, and Miles pulls no punches in her portrayal of the waves of discrimination that crashed over those fortunate enough to survive the voyage....
    "The Way Around, Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami" by Good, David: "Rooted in two vastly different cultures, a young man struggles to understand himself, find his place in the world, and reconnect with his mother and her remote tribe in the deepest jungles of the Amazon rainforest in this powerful memoir that combines adventure, history, and anthropology." This memoir is very moving...all the way to tears.
    -- Eric

  • A great novel on the topic I read in college is "The Jungle", by Upton Sinclair.
    For films, there are great scenes of the Ellis Island experience in "The Godfather Part 2". -- Dan

  • "Call it Sleep", by Henry Roth.
    "The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson", by Betty Bao Lord (children's book).
    "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri (short stories).
    "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon.
    "'Tis" by Frank McCourt.
    -- Susan

  • I just found the following website: myimmigrationstory.com/. The stories are short, and they vary in detail, interest, etc. --Jo

  • There are two classics of the Eastern European Jewish immigrant experience in New York City. The earliest is the debut novel by Henry Roth, "Call It Sleep", written in the 1930's. And then there is the non-fiction history by Irving Howe, "World of Our Fathers". Both have strong autobiographical elements. Oh, and I almost forgot "New York Jew", by Alfred Kazin, which is clearly autobiographical.


  • The Liv Ullman/Max von Sydow film version [of "The Emigrants"] from the early '70s is not a short time commitment. That is a looooong movie. -- Lucy

  • We thought "Brooklyn" was pretty good. -- Doug

  • "Godfather 2", but remember: NO NAMES WERE CHANGED AT ELLIS ISLAND! -- Jody

  • Oh! "The Visitor", directed by Tom McCarthy (2008), is fantastic, in my humble opinion. -- Susan

  • "Amreeka" from 2009. Somewhat current immigration to the Midwest from the Middle East. --Karen

  • "Golden Door" 2006 (original title Nuovomondo) is a poor Sicilian farmer's family immigration story. Listen to an NPR interview with Scorsese on the Immigrant Experience on Film. -- Jody

Genealogy Resources

Online resources

  • The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation has detailed histories of both these places, and access to their passenger records. You can look at the records for free, but you need to make a donation to download them.

  • ancestry.com. Expensive, but they have a free introductory period. Many libraries offer access to ancestry.com.

  • jewishgen.org is free to use, and has broad and deep resources for Jewish genealogy research. Go here first.

  • findagrave.com. Maybe it lets you Find A Grave?

Human- and paper-based resources

  • The Oakland Family History Center is practically in our back yard on the grounds of the LDS Temple on Lincoln Ave just off Hwy 13, and has access to books, indexes, microfilms, and maps. It is always staffed by knowledgeable volunteers who are eager to help. If they don't have a microfilm or fiche onsite, you can order it there for a small fee. They also have computers with access to newspaper archives and many other paid research sites.

  • The UC Berkeley Earth Sciences and Map Library in McCone Hall is literally in our back yard. Great for current and historical maps. Use your Cal Alumni Association membership card to gain friendly access to resources there.

  • The Sutro Library, a branch of the California State Library system, is located on the San Francisco State campus. The library has a large collection of publications and items dating from the 13th to the 21st centuries. It also has one of the largest genealogy collections in the U.S. Use the city directories from all over the country to answer the question "where did they live?"
Last updated 21 April 2016.