A beloved symbol of the USA is the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from the French people in 1886. Its name in French is “La Liberté éclairant le monde,” meaning “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Chinese pro-Democracy demonstrators created their own version, a 33-foot-tall “Goddess of Democracy and Freedom,” in four days during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. That was destroyed by Red Army soldiers clearing the square after massacring thousands of demonstrators; however the spirit of democracy and freedom continues to inspire people around the world.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, around thirty-four million people immigrated to this country; around 75% of them stayed and made the USA their new home. For those who came on ships, entering by way of New York harbor, our Statue of Liberty was the first thing they saw in the United States of America.
Most of those immigrants could not read English, so of course they could not have read the poem carved on the pedestal that supports the statue. The poem — “The New Colossus,” written by the Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus — is quoted in its entirety below. Here I will quote the part of that poem that means the most to me: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless… to me.” This quote is exceedingly dear to my heart — in part because my wife is an immigrant from China, where she suffered terribly under Mao Tse Tung’s Communist regime, and in part because my job for the past twenty-five years has been teaching immigrants how to understand, speak, read and write English.
There has been much in the news recently about immigrants and immigration. Without wading into the fray, let me just say this: President Obama was right in saying recently that we are a nation of immigrants. All of us are ultimately of immigrant extraction. My maternal grandparents were from England; my father’s ancestors came over with the early English settlers. But scientists say that even the Apaches and the Arapaho and the Sioux and Chumash peoples — all native Americans, or indigenous people of this continent — originally came here from Asia.
I speak not only as the husband of an immigrant and the teacher of immigrants, but also as the neighbor of immigrants (Armenians, Koreans, and Latinos primarily on my street), in saying: Let us remember what it says on the Statue of Liberty, and welcome immigrants to our shores, and not round them up like cattle and treat them as invaders.
They are human beings, and they come to share the “American dream.” Let’s not turn that dream into a nightmare.
Long live the spirit and the dream of freedom and democracy for all! And let us make that dream a reality. Sooner, not later.
Here is the entire “Statue of Liberty” poem, as promised:
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”