Ridgefield Playhouse Arts in Education shows canceled, but that didn't stop students from writing essays about their family history for "Ellis Island: Gateway to a Dream"
The Ridgefield Playhouse, a nonprofit performing arts center in Ridgefield CT, was scheduled to present 33 performances of 11 Arts in Education titles this season. Subjects ranged from various literary titles bringing books to life on stage to history to presenting STEM shows and were geared toward grades pre-K through middle school. However, due to the COVID 19 outbreak, 18 of those shows were canceled. In particular, on March 24th and 25th, about 1,450 students and teachers were due to attend Ellis Island: Gateway to a Dream, presented by the touring company Sundog Theater.
As part of these performances, The Ridgefield Playhouse, along with one of the Arts in Education sponsors Union Savings Bank, invited students to be part of an essay contest where they interview a family member and share their family’s story of coming to America.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid 19 outbreak, the shows did not happen, and neither did the essay contest. However, the essays, written by 89 students from Ridgefield, Trumbull, Stamford, Bedford and Brewster who chose to explore their family heritage, were still read and very much appreciated!
The Playhouse would like to acknowledge all of the students' hard work as well as share a sampling of what they wrote. Some students' ancestors came in the year 1635 and some students actually came with their families in the last few years, but they all had similar goals – to find a better life in America.
While each story is unique, there are common threads throughout. People of all ages and from all over the world took great risks in leaving their homes and sometimes other family members to come to “the land of opportunity”. Some came for an education, many served in our military, created new businesses, found their spouses and started families. They needed to make a living, learn a new language, make new friends and build a new life.
They came from 43 different countries including Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Vietnam.
We want to thank all of the students who participated and hope that discussing their family's history was a fun and interesting experience.
Here are some excerpts:
Jayden: “I never got to meet my great grandparents or grandmother, but my father and mother say I look just like my great grandmother Cecilia. I am proud of my Jewish Russian heritage because my family is strong and overcame a lot of terrible things in Russia.”
Markus: “I hope you will like my Mom’s story. On Wednesday, March 11, she is getting sworn in to become an American citizen.”
Camila: “My mother excelled in school earned scholarships to attend college. She graduated and is a surgical technologist. All odds were against her but she defied them and succeeded. She is an example of the American Dream. I am the proud daughter of an immigrant”
Charlie: “I really did not want to leave because France was my home…Now it has been three years and I am doing great at school. I love my town Ridgefield and I like to play with my 17 cousins. Now I realize that home is where my family is. Now America is my home.”
Kimberly: “He was a soccer player at the German School…I’m confident that I got my soccer skills from my dad who got them from my grandpa. When I asked him how he felt when he moved to the USA, he replied ‘it was a little confusing and it was hard to learn English but I am a fast learner. I was able to make friends quickly.’”
Lucca: “Today we are all American citizens living an American life with a heart half Brazilian and half American.”
Matthew: “When I think about what my family members have been through, it makes me feel grateful for them. They had a lot of courage and determination to never give up. They were hard workers and because of their hard work I have a good life today.”
Jorge: “My family is an example of a family that didn’t originate in America but immigrated from many surrounding countries. They were brave and they made the life I have today possible.”
Autumn: “So next time you are in Ellis Island think of Tregio S. And how he came here on a boat with almost one thousand people and how he had four dollars and four cents in his pocket and how his name is on or in Ellis Island.”
Thank you to all the students who sent in essays. We loved reading them and learning your family stories. We look forward to presenting Ellis Island: Gateway to a Dream next March 24th and 25th 2021!