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Bruce Springsteen Celebrates His Past at Ellis Island Award Ceremony

April 23, 2010 8:54 AM ET

Of all the people that Bruce Springsteen has appeared alongside onstage, Dikembe Mutumbo might be the most unlikely — and definitely the tallest — yet. The New Jersey rocker and former New Jersey Net basketball star were both on hand at New York's Ellis Island yesterday to accept this year's batch of Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards. Springsteen was joined by his mother, Adele, and his 87- and 90-year-old aunts at the event, which honored the immigrants and descendents "who have made a major contribution to the American experience," the AP reports. Springsteen's great-grandmother, Raffaela Zerilli, passed through Ellis Island in 1900 after making the trek from Italy to America with five children in tow, including Springsteen's maternal grandfather, Antonio.

"I am proud to be here today as another hopeful wanderer, a son of Italy, of Ireland and of Holland — and to wish God's grace, safe passage and good fortune to those who are crossing our borders today — and to give thanks to those who have come before whose journey, courage and sacrifice made me an American," Springsteen said at the event. Springsteen also reminisced about growing up with a grandmother that spoke only Italian, even as a 100-year-old — "So much for assimilation," Springsteen joked — and discussed his family history, a theme that has crept into his lyrics throughout the years. On the Seeger Sessions' "American Land," Springsteen sings, "I docked at Ellis Island in a city of light and spires, she met me in the valley of red-hot steel and fire," and "Who will make his home in the American Land, the McNicholas, the Posalski's, the Smiths, Zerillis, too."

Springsteen also brought his mother — who married Irish-American Douglas Springsteen and later moved to the Garden State to raise their three children — and aunts onstage so that they could share in the honor. Banker Peter Peterson and Avon CEO Andrea Jung also received the Heritage Award.

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