I enjoy learning things. I enjoy even more to discover things I assumed were truth are not true at all.
This week I was reading about Ellis Island, in New York Harbour, the place where millions of immigrants were processed when entering the USA. I had believed that when faced with Ukrainian, Polish, or Gaelic names the overworked Ellis Island workers would uncaringly anglicise whatever they heard.
If the name Kowalczyk was given by a Varsovian, they wrote Kowalski. If they heard Peadarsan from a Scottish Highlander, they wrote Peterson. It was a failing of language.
This, it turns out, isn’t true – despite the fact that I’ve seen it happen in several Hollywood movies. It’s almost as if the movies distorted the facts. Who could have suspected such a thing?
Between 1892 and 1924 Ellis Island handled between 12 and 13 million immigrants, and got almost every one of their names right. The clerks had to check the papers of the people in front of them against names on the ship’s manifest. The manifest would have been compiled at the port of embarkation in that port’s native language. If a new New Yorker couldn’t give a name that exactly matched what was on the list, they didn’t get in.
In any case, almost all the workers at Ellis Island were able to speak two or three languages. The authorities deliberately hired people who had themselves come from Europe and so knew what they were dealing with.
Names of former Europeans did get changed. But this was usually done by the owner of the name, probably as an effort to fit in with new neighbourhoods and employers.
You may have known all of the above. I didn’t.
But now I think on it, checking names against a ship’s manifest is the obvious thing to do. And hiring bilingual workers is clearly a wise course of action. It all makes sense when you consider the facts.
If I was a modern American, I think I’d read up on the US electoral process. I’d seek information on how votes are counted, methods of compiling totals, and the laws that govern elections. Then I’d decide whether I could believe an election in an advanced Western democracy could be “stolen”.
On the other hand, I could mindlessly parrot slogans like “Stop The Steal” and wave a gun about.
There is a lot to be gained by investigating all sides of an argument and coming to an informed decision. I know that you do this because you are reading a newspaper that reports news in a balanced and considered fashion. A newspaper that doesn’t present baseless rumour as fact.
The truth is a valuable thing. Being able to discern exactly what is, and isn’t, truth is even more precious.
Word of the week
Relating to the palm of the hand or sole of the foot. EG: “I have sustained a volar paper cut.”
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