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Inside Ellis Island.
Max Touhey

12 sites that explore the immigrant experience in NYC

These museums and monuments honor the legacy and contributions of immigrants

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Inside Ellis Island.
| Max Touhey

New York is—and has always been—a city of immigrants, with several waves of immigration to the city throughout its history. These days, there are around 3.2 million foreign-born New Yorkers in the city (the largest number in its history), and hundreds of different languages spoken across the five boroughs, according to the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

To see the ways in which immigrants have contributed to the fabric of the city—and to learn about the immigrant experience in New York City—pay a visit to these museums and cultural sites.

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1. Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

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Statue of Liberty National Monument
New York, NY 10004
(832) 960-0009
Visit Website

The Museum of Immigration at Ellis Island tells the stories of the 12 million immigrants who entered the country through this portal, and whose descendants account for almost half of the American people, according to the museum’s website. There are several self-guided exhibits, including the “Peopling of America,” which explores migration between the 1550s and 1890, before the Ellis Island Era; “New Eras of Immigration,” exploring from 1954 to today; and the American Family Immigration Historic Center, where you can see passenger records of ships that landed at the island between 1820 and 1957.

2. “The Immigrants,” 1973

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South of Castle Clinton, The Battery
New York, NY 10004
(212) 639-9675
Visit Website

Near Castle Clinton in Battery Park, south of Eisenhower Mall, a statue by sculptor Luis Sanguino honors migrants from different eras—including those who were forced to leave their home countries. “The Immigrants” sculpture features a priest, a worker, a freed African slave, and an Eastern European Jew. The statue is also dedicated to those who entered the country through Castle Clinton, which served as a “processing facility” from 1855 to 1890, before Ellis Island’s facility was completed. The sculpture was commissioned in the 1970s by Samuel Rudin and was installed in the ’80s.

NYC Parks

3. St. George Tavern

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103 Washington St
New York, NY 10006
(212) 240-9868
Visit Website

St. George Tavern used to be St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church, one of the last remnants of what was known as Little Syria. Before the World Trade Center, the area known as the Lower West Side was “the center of Arab life” in the United States from the 1880s to the 1940s. Built in 1812, the terra-cotta Melkite church housed immigrants as a boarding house in the 1850s and 1860s, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report says. In 1869 it became a five-story building and continued to serve as a boarding house and later a tenement. In 1925, the Melkite parish bought the building, and Lebanese-American architect Harvey F. Cassab designed a new facade to convert the building into a church. The building became a NYC landmark in 2009.

BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

4. Irish Hunger Memorial

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North End Ave & Vesey St
New York, NY 10280
(212) 267-9700
Visit Website

This tranquil site serves as a memorial to the Great Irish Famine and Migration between 1845 and 1852. It honors the more than two million people in New York State who report being of Irish ancestry, and the more than 31 million in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 1860, there were 200,000 Irish immigrants in New York City (more Irish lived here than in Dublin at the time). The memorial, representing a rural Irish landscape, was created by artist Brian Tolle, 1100 Architect, and landscape artist Gail Wittwer-Laird.

Getty Images/Lee Snider

5. Museum at Eldridge Street

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12 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 219-0302
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The Eldridge Street Synagogue, a national landmark, was built by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and opened in 1887. Now, the building is home to the Museum at Eldridge Street, which tells the story of the Jewish migration to the Lower East Side through exhibits, tours, cultural events, and educational programs. According to the National Park Service, the synagogue is the “most important artifact of Eastern European Orthodox Judaism in America” and the first “great house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in the U.S.”

Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image/Dan Herrick

6. Museum of Chinese in America

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Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 619-4785
Visit Website

Today, there are nine Chinatowns in New York City, and according to the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, there are 365,885 Chinese immigrants in NYC. The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) was founded in 1980 to present and preserve the history and culture of people of Chinese descent in the U.S. Though its origins are humble, the museum has expanded to a Maya Lin-designed building on Centre Street with exhibits, events, and more.

7. Italian American Museum

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155 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 965-9000
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Currently closed for renovations, the Italian American Museum, located in the heart of Little Italy, celebrates the legacy of Italians in the U.S. from the 1600s to today. The building where the museum has been located since 2007 used to house the Banca Stabile, a 19th-century bank that offered financial, postal, and communications services to Italian immigrants. Construction for the museum’s expansion began in 2018, and is expected to be completed in late 2020.

Courtesy of the Italian American Museum and op.AL

8. Tenement Museum

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103 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002
(877) 975-3786
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Through tours, exhibitions, and educational programs, the Tenement Museum tells the stories of the many immigrants who came to New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The institution was founded in 1988 by historian Ruth Abram and activist Anita Jacobsen, when they discovered a dilapidated building at 97 Orchard Street that had been shuttered for more than 50 years. Today, the museum offers tours of the building that shine a light on the differing immigrant experiences of the neighborhood’s former residents. (Fun fact: The museum abuts Allen Street, which is co-named Avenue of the Immigrants.)

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images Contributor

9. José Julián Martí statue

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W 59th St &, Center Drive
New York, NY 10019
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

Created by sculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (who also designed Riverside Park’s famed Joan of Arc statue), this bronze statute honors Cuban author José Julián Martí, who fought to liberate Cuba from Spain and escaped to New York in 1880. During his time here, he continued organizing for his country’s freedom, creating the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892. He returned to Cuba in 1895 at the start of its successful fight for independence. The piece is one of three statues of Latin American leaders in Central Park including Simón Bolívar, from Venezuela, and José de San Martín, from Argentina.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

10. El Museo del Barrio

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1230 5th Ave
New York, NY 10029
(212) 831-7272
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Founded in 1969, by artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz and a group of Puerto Rican activists and educators, El Museo celebrates the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans in the United States. (Even though their experiences are similar to those who migrate to the U.S., it is important to remember that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.) One of El Museo’s missions is to educate and promote Caribbean and Latin American art and culture, which it does through exhibits and special events—every year, for instance, it hosts the Three Kings Day parade.

Education Images/UIG/Getty Images

11. Marcus Garvey Park

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6316, Mt Morris Park W
New York, NY 10027
(212) 639-9675
Visit Website

Marcus Garvey was a civil rights activist, black nationalist, and leader of the Pan Africanism movement, aimed at unifying the African diaspora. After emigrating to New York from Jamaica, he settled in Harlem in 1916, after which he founded the Negro World newspaper and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which promoted “black economic self-sufficiency” and black-owned businesses, NYC Parks says. Garvey spent two years in prison as he was convicted of mail fraud in 1923, but president Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence, and he was deported to Jamaica in 1927. Now, this Harlem park bears his name.

Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks

12. Hamilton Grange National Memorial

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414 W 141st St
New York, NY 10031
(646) 548-2310
Visit Website

Thanks to Hamilton, founding father—and noted immigrant—Alexander Hamilton’s life has gotten a lot more press in recent years. Hamilton was born in Nevis, part of the British West Indies, and came to New York in 1773 when he was 16 years old. He joined the New York artillery company when the college shuttered during the revolution, and later became George Washington’s right hand man. In short, Hamilton “created the tools for the success of the United States,” according to the National Park Service (NPS). His former home in Harlem is now a National Memorial. Even though the house has moved, it still remains in the area he owned back in the early 1800s, according to the NPS.

Mike Coppola/Staff/Getty Images

1. Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY 10004

The Museum of Immigration at Ellis Island tells the stories of the 12 million immigrants who entered the country through this portal, and whose descendants account for almost half of the American people, according to the museum’s website. There are several self-guided exhibits, including the “Peopling of America,” which explores migration between the 1550s and 1890, before the Ellis Island Era; “New Eras of Immigration,” exploring from 1954 to today; and the American Family Immigration Historic Center, where you can see passenger records of ships that landed at the island between 1820 and 1957.

Statue of Liberty National Monument
New York, NY 10004

2. “The Immigrants,” 1973

South of Castle Clinton, The Battery, New York, NY 10004
NYC Parks

Near Castle Clinton in Battery Park, south of Eisenhower Mall, a statue by sculptor Luis Sanguino honors migrants from different eras—including those who were forced to leave their home countries. “The Immigrants” sculpture features a priest, a worker, a freed African slave, and an Eastern European Jew. The statue is also dedicated to those who entered the country through Castle Clinton, which served as a “processing facility” from 1855 to 1890, before Ellis Island’s facility was completed. The sculpture was commissioned in the 1970s by Samuel Rudin and was installed in the ’80s.

South of Castle Clinton, The Battery
New York, NY 10004

3. St. George Tavern

103 Washington St, New York, NY 10006
BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

St. George Tavern used to be St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church, one of the last remnants of what was known as Little Syria. Before the World Trade Center, the area known as the Lower West Side was “the center of Arab life” in the United States from the 1880s to the 1940s. Built in 1812, the terra-cotta Melkite church housed immigrants as a boarding house in the 1850s and 1860s, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report says. In 1869 it became a five-story building and continued to serve as a boarding house and later a tenement. In 1925, the Melkite parish bought the building, and Lebanese-American architect Harvey F. Cassab designed a new facade to convert the building into a church. The building became a NYC landmark in 2009.

103 Washington St
New York, NY 10006

4. Irish Hunger Memorial

North End Ave & Vesey St, New York, NY 10280
Getty Images/Lee Snider

This tranquil site serves as a memorial to the Great Irish Famine and Migration between 1845 and 1852. It honors the more than two million people in New York State who report being of Irish ancestry, and the more than 31 million in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 1860, there were 200,000 Irish immigrants in New York City (more Irish lived here than in Dublin at the time). The memorial, representing a rural Irish landscape, was created by artist Brian Tolle, 1100 Architect, and landscape artist Gail Wittwer-Laird.

North End Ave & Vesey St
New York, NY 10280

5. Museum at Eldridge Street

12 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002
Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image/Dan Herrick

The Eldridge Street Synagogue, a national landmark, was built by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and opened in 1887. Now, the building is home to the Museum at Eldridge Street, which tells the story of the Jewish migration to the Lower East Side through exhibits, tours, cultural events, and educational programs. According to the National Park Service, the synagogue is the “most important artifact of Eastern European Orthodox Judaism in America” and the first “great house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in the U.S.”

12 Eldridge St
New York, NY 10002

6. Museum of Chinese in America

Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St, New York, NY 10013

Today, there are nine Chinatowns in New York City, and according to the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, there are 365,885 Chinese immigrants in NYC. The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) was founded in 1980 to present and preserve the history and culture of people of Chinese descent in the U.S. Though its origins are humble, the museum has expanded to a Maya Lin-designed building on Centre Street with exhibits, events, and more.

Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St
New York, NY 10013

7. Italian American Museum

155 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013
Courtesy of the Italian American Museum and op.AL

Currently closed for renovations, the Italian American Museum, located in the heart of Little Italy, celebrates the legacy of Italians in the U.S. from the 1600s to today. The building where the museum has been located since 2007 used to house the Banca Stabile, a 19th-century bank that offered financial, postal, and communications services to Italian immigrants. Construction for the museum’s expansion began in 2018, and is expected to be completed in late 2020.

155 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013

8. Tenement Museum

103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
Ramin Talaie/Getty Images Contributor

Through tours, exhibitions, and educational programs, the Tenement Museum tells the stories of the many immigrants who came to New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The institution was founded in 1988 by historian Ruth Abram and activist Anita Jacobsen, when they discovered a dilapidated building at 97 Orchard Street that had been shuttered for more than 50 years. Today, the museum offers tours of the building that shine a light on the differing immigrant experiences of the neighborhood’s former residents. (Fun fact: The museum abuts Allen Street, which is co-named Avenue of the Immigrants.)

103 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002

9. José Julián Martí statue

W 59th St &, Center Drive, New York, NY 10019
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Created by sculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (who also designed Riverside Park’s famed Joan of Arc statue), this bronze statute honors Cuban author José Julián Martí, who fought to liberate Cuba from Spain and escaped to New York in 1880. During his time here, he continued organizing for his country’s freedom, creating the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892. He returned to Cuba in 1895 at the start of its successful fight for independence. The piece is one of three statues of Latin American leaders in Central Park including Simón Bolívar, from Venezuela, and José de San Martín, from Argentina.

W 59th St &, Center Drive
New York, NY 10019

10. El Museo del Barrio

1230 5th Ave, New York, NY 10029
Education Images/UIG/Getty Images

Founded in 1969, by artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz and a group of Puerto Rican activists and educators, El Museo celebrates the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans in the United States. (Even though their experiences are similar to those who migrate to the U.S., it is important to remember that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.) One of El Museo’s missions is to educate and promote Caribbean and Latin American art and culture, which it does through exhibits and special events—every year, for instance, it hosts the Three Kings Day parade.

1230 5th Ave
New York, NY 10029

11. Marcus Garvey Park

6316, Mt Morris Park W, New York, NY 10027
Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks

Marcus Garvey was a civil rights activist, black nationalist, and leader of the Pan Africanism movement, aimed at unifying the African diaspora. After emigrating to New York from Jamaica, he settled in Harlem in 1916, after which he founded the Negro World newspaper and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which promoted “black economic self-sufficiency” and black-owned businesses, NYC Parks says. Garvey spent two years in prison as he was convicted of mail fraud in 1923, but president Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence, and he was deported to Jamaica in 1927. Now, this Harlem park bears his name.

6316, Mt Morris Park W
New York, NY 10027

12. Hamilton Grange National Memorial

414 W 141st St, New York, NY 10031
Mike Coppola/Staff/Getty Images

Thanks to Hamilton, founding father—and noted immigrant—Alexander Hamilton’s life has gotten a lot more press in recent years. Hamilton was born in Nevis, part of the British West Indies, and came to New York in 1773 when he was 16 years old. He joined the New York artillery company when the college shuttered during the revolution, and later became George Washington’s right hand man. In short, Hamilton “created the tools for the success of the United States,” according to the National Park Service (NPS). His former home in Harlem is now a National Memorial. Even though the house has moved, it still remains in the area he owned back in the early 1800s, according to the NPS.

414 W 141st St
New York, NY 10031