They left all they had, all they knew, to come to America for a better life. The stories of immigrants are as varied as the 51-plus-million who crossed the Atlantic in crowded, unsanitary conditions. For them, the American dream was their only hope, so they endured the hardships knowing that a very bright light waited for them in New York Harbor, raised by the hand of the Statue of Liberty.
1907 was a record year for immigration to the United States, a record which remained intact for the next 80 years. More than 1.2-million potential new citizens were processed at the border that year. They were subjected by US Customs to medical and legal examinations, and those who failed were returned to their homeland. The inspection would range from 3 to 5 hours, and the doctors became adept at recognizing the various illnesses within seconds of observation.
If everything was in order, they would step foot in the “Land of Opportunity.” These were not freeloaders who expected to live for free off government entitlements. They often came with a few dollars in their pocket, the clothes on their back, and talents and abilities they would use to create their future.
One such immigrant from Romania was a young man in his early 30’s named Cye Lifon. In his native land, he built a business around his knowledge of music. He sold various instruments, and offered lessons on the piano, violin, and mandolin. Stringed instruments were his forte, but Cye liked to tinker with anything that produced a pleasant sound. He had acquired a percussion instrument with ancient roots in Asia and Africa. Beautiful music arose from the device by striking diverse types of wood or metal strips.
Alas, the economy took its toll on Cye and his music shop closed. Having heard the rumors of a country where anyone with a dream could be a success, he decided to join thousands of others on the difficult journey across the ocean. He believed he could re-establish his former passion by opening a new music shop on a New York City street.
Cye passed through Ellis Island without a problem. However, as was typical due to language barriers, when the US Immigration officer asked Cye his name the heavy Romanian accent was not music to the ears of the interrogator. After several attempts to understand, the official wrote down “Xy Lophone.” A new name in a new country seemed appropriate to Cye Lifon.
Within a few months his dream became reality with the grand opening of Xy Lophone’s Music Shop on 43rd Avenue. He had continued his marvel at the ancient instrument. One side of the shop was lined with contraptions that he built in his spare time. As music enthusiasts wandered inside and saw these contrivances, they asked Xy what he called them. Xy would respond with, “I just call them my xylophones.”