By Julie Huss
---- — LONDONDERRY — On this day, her name wasn’t Natalie Brooks, it was Amelia Corsi.
The 11-year-old Londonderry Middle School sixth-grader took on the persona of Amelia, a 25-year-old Italian woman entering the United States through Ellis Island as part of the school’s annual Immigration Day.
Students dressed the parts, becoming immigrants from many countries hoping to start a new life in the U.S. in 1907. The names were real, the costumes looked authentic and it was time to find out exactly what it was like to be an immigrant.
For Natalie, it was all about being Amelia.
Her own great-grandfather, Giovanni Filippe, came from Italy as a young boy. Natalie had a copy of his actual papers to bring along as part of her treasure trove of items she kept in a small suitcase.
Some immigrants only had the clothes on their back; others had well-stocked bundles of special items to bring along.
Getting to the U.S. wasn’t easy.
Teachers and parent volunteers played the parts of baggage checkers, inspectors and health officials staffing different checkpoints and grilling the immigrants on why they were here, what they wanted to do and how well they could speak English.
“It was kind of scary,” Natalie said. “If you fail, you might get sent back.”
Special education assistant Judy Payne said the students took their immigration project very seriously. They spent weeks studying their character, the country and the process they had to follow to get through Ellis Island.
“It’s a re-enactment, but they are all authentic names,” she said.
Sixth-grade teacher Becky Walden said students also prepared their own costumes and props.
“They researched the time period and why they came,” she said.
Students were also asked to create a “bundle of memories” to show what items were special that their character carried all the way to America.
Erin McCaffrey, 11, played 17-year-old Josephine Vina, also coming to America from Italy, with two young daughters in tow. Vina would eventually head to Boston once through the immigration process.
“They told me I had conjunctivitis and that scared me a little,” Erin said once she got to the medical inspection area. “I learned how hard it was and what they all went through.”
Erin also had family ties to ancestors who came here from another country. Her great-grandfather came from Ireland.
“My grandmother used to talk to us about it,” she said. “She told me how hard it was.”
Eva Gertz, 12, realized how tough it was for immigrants back then. She played Carla Mossini, a 58-year-old Italian woman who had to endure aggressive baggage inspectors during the process.
“They would stand there and glare at you and yell at you,” she said. “Immigrants didn’t have it easy.”
All sixth-grade teams participated in Immigration Day events and hosted an international feast afterward.