Memorials to European Immigrants: A Geopolitical Compass to their Settlement of the New World

Migration memorials can be used as geopolitical compasses to trace back the roots of European immigration to various locations in the New World. The locations, representations, and the nuances of the designs of the memorials depict the places where different ethnic groups were honored for their presence, and possibly how they were perceived at the time of the memorials' construction.

Europeans have settled throughout the United States and Canada. The locations of the memorials often correlate with large communities of these groups. Many of these memorials were created by members of the groups that they were erected for, which prevents them from being stereotypical.

Image result for arrival sculpture united nations
Copyright United Nations

“Arrival” sits in front of the United Nations in New York City. It is erected in the name of Irish immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in the late 1800s and early 1900s, helped to shape the culture of the city. The sculptor was an Irishman, and the memorial was gifted to the UN from Ireland as a way to remember the Emerald Isle's contributions to the world.

The memorial stirs memories of Ellis Island: it illustrates an extremely crowded Irish ship upon its arrival to America as people are beginning to disembark. Each person is not distinctly identifiable, and they do not have discernable facial features. This represents the Irish well; when these immigrants would arrive in tremendous amounts, many did not have much to their name. To Ellis Island officials, they might have been just another Irish family coming over to the United States.


Copyright Zois Marinos

The Statue of the Greek Immigrant is dedicated to the Greek community of Montreal, Canada, and was given to the city to celebrate its 375th birthday and the role Greeks have played in building Montreal to what it is now. Like the Irish in New York, many Greeks made their home in Montreal and made improvements to the city, and today even have a Hellenic town council in Montreal.

Similar to the Irish, these people most likely only possessed what was on their backs and in their hands​ at the time of arriving in the New World, but this statue represents Greek immigrants differently: rather than focusing on the vast numbers of immigrants who have contributed to North America, this statue focuses on the individual family units themselves. This statue is comprised of a family of a father, mother, and son who appear to have just arrived in the New World. I may not be Irish, but I am half-Greek and family is crucial to our lives, and Greek families often function together as a unit. I am certain that this is a message that the sculptor hoped to get across by choosing a family as the objects to sculpt. 

With “Hellas”-branded suitcases in hand, and hats and jackets on, their features stand quite defined. To me, this family looks as if they just got of a ship like the one in "Arrival:" they stand with their eyes out towards the city, almost as if they were contemplating what the hoped to do. Nevertheless, this family seems ready to take on a new life.

From a geographical standpoint, the Irish were one of many ethnic groups to immigrate to New York, whereas the Greeks are one of the largest and most prominent non-Canadian ethnic groups within Montreal. 



The Italian Immigrants was built the earliest out of the memorials studied, in 1972. Crafted by Rodolfo Torrini, this sculpture honors the Italian immigrants who came to St. Louis throughout the early 1900s. It sits near the Catholic Church, a building that has a large connection with Italy due to the Papacy in Rome and that many Italians (including emigrants) are Catholics. 

Like its Greek-immigrant counterpart, this statue is focused on family, but this statue has a husband, wife, and a newborn. Yet again, this statue is another resounding example of immigrant families arriving in the New World, ready to take on what lies ahead.


Copyright The Ottumwa Courier
Copyright The Deheers

The Swedish American Immigrant Monument depicts a situation similar to the Greek family: a husband, wife, and children with their clothes and faces being well-defined. 

However, this statue is located in the small, rural town of Munterville, Iowa, and is dedicated to the Swedes who settled to obtain new farmland. Unlike the Greeks' clothes of the city, the Swedes in this memorial are cast in traditional garb, and the man can be seen holding tools to be used on the farm.

The man holds farm tools, and the boy holds his hat. This is a stark contrast to the Greeks in their coats and jackets ready to take on the city. Many Scandinavians settled in the American plains to obtain new farmland, and this couple is no exception. In the mid-1800s, many Swedes settled in the area around the statue's location, dubbed “New Sweden,” and their descendants decided to build this monument as an homage.

The map below presents that the area was primarily settled by Germans, but many Scandinavians including Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns also have some presence amongst the people in the Great Plains due to the abundant farmland.


By settling in different locations around the US and Canada, each European group made their mark on the New World in a unique way. From large groups to families, from city to country, each group of immigrants has established itself as a blend of their homeland's and American culture. Because of this, they were portrayed differently in their respective memorials, paying homage to how they not only brought the Old World with them, but also how they shaped someplace in the New World. However, these Europeans had one thing in common as they decided to come: a new and happy life ahead.