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Is New York City the center of the universe? Perhaps at least the multicultural capital of the world? There’s no lack of people who believe this, and you may be one of them after visiting two iconic spots within the city that symbolize the international significance of the Big Apple.

One can easily explore the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the United Nations in a day – an education in the rise of the city as a melting pot unlike any other and the epicenter of world politics and diplomacy at the United Nations.

The weight of history hangs over Ellis Island in an almost palpable sense. The futures of families and generations were determined here, often in the whim of a split second. The most common reason for rejection was a contagious disease or other health-related reason, but many were rejected for trivial reasons. The holding area dormitory where immigrants were detained while awaiting a final decision on their fate is particularly poignant. Walls are lined with photos of another era, when Ellis Island was the gateway, when families arriving with nothing hit the restart button on their lives and charted a new course for future generations. To get to Ellis Island, take the ferry that also stops at the Statue of Liberty.

Towering over Manhattan’s East Side, the United Nations has a solemn air as if it were a holy place – the temple of relations between nations. The U.N. strives to combat disease, hunger, illiteracy and the destruction of the environment, as well as tackling such issues as human rights. Take the two-hour guided tour and visit the chambers where world leaders discuss the world’s most pressing issues. Tour guides are from a variety of countries, and there are multi-language headsets. Take time to sit in the Security Chambers to reflect on the decisions and efforts made there.

Even if you view the political nature of the U.N. somewhat cynically, you can’t help but be impressed by the worthy goals and idealism that underlay its existence, a sense of trying to make the world a better place. The tour also looks at the progress made by members toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The gift shop’s a worthwhile visit. The United Nations is an international zone and you can mail a postcard with U.N. stamps, but only from the United Nations building.

Then make your way through the ethnic neighborhoods of New York, sampling the food and humming along with Sinatra, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”

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