"Give me your tired, your poor..."by
out from the southern tip of Manhattan I could make out the Statue of Liberty.
That was as close as I got to this amazing gift from the French to the people
of America. I have read about it and the memorable quote of Emma Lazarus:
|"Give me your tired,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
|Most school children
today know that sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design
a sculpture to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence.
Friendship between the people of France and of the United States was greater in
of Liberty engraving by Currier and I ves
Statue of Liberty that has welcomed immigrants in the harbor of New York City
for 123 years is still a beacon of hope to the world's down-trodden. This in spite
of recent anti-immigration events and disparaging remarks about our foreign friends.
Such attitudes should be a concern for us as a nation proclaiming democracy, freedom
For example, such remarks as: "No more 'wretched refuse'." "The
door might be golden but the insides are a mess: 'no vacancy'." "There is no room
in this inn anymore." "Country's full, go to Canada." "Welfare checks don't go
The question comes that if the Statue of Liberty, and all it
represents, freedom, hope, welcome to the foreigner, why are so many Americans
no longer welcoming immigrants who have helped build this country?
West Coast has no Statue of Liberty. We once had laws that kept Asians out for
a very long time. Unfortunately, today if your suntan is bit too brown, you are
not welcomed with open arms. No great poems of hopes and dreams have ever been
posted on the Rio Grande, El Paso, Nogales, or Tijuana.
This attitude against
immigrants is in direct opposition to the closing words of the Emma Lazarus sonnet,
"The New Colossus," which is on the Statue of Liberty.
Lazarus' draft of The New Collosus
Lazarus' "The New Colossus" speaks of a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. The last 35 words of the
poem are those memorialized on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Emma was one of the most successful Jewish American authors in our history. Besides
novels and poetry, she wrote strong essays protesting the rising tide of anti-Semitism
in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s.
She had to deal
with not only being a woman writer, but add to that the unequal treatment toward
Jews. She was not a Zionist but wanted Jews to unite and create a homeland in
Emma was born in 1849 into a wealthy family who traced their
ancestry in America to before the Revolutionary War. They were Sephardic Jews.
(These are descendants of Jews of Spain, Portugal and North Africa. Not always
appreciated by the Jews of Eastern Europe and Germany.)
She had a strong
classical education. Her talent for writing was noticed early and her father encouraged
In a letter to a friend Emma wrote, "My own curiosity and
interest are insatiable."
Emma Lazarus was a complex person, having wealth
yet understanding and speaking out for the dispossessed, the less fortunate, and
degrading life so many were forced to live.
Emma's lifetime and immediately following, 1840s to 1930, the United States took
about 60 percent of the world's immigrants. They were frequently exploited and
often blamed for lowering wages and living standards; at the same time being accused
of favoring formation of fairer labor laws.
Rather than blame today's
foreigner, get the Immigration and Naturalization Department and the Border Patrol
to use the laws we have. And make Congress find a way to pay for it more realistically.
The century-long image of the United States being where people are free
to begin a new life is unlike any in world history. Let's learn how to keep that
image without ghettos, xenophobic spirit or another "white flight" away from reality.
Along the Way with Britt,
September 18, 2009 Column
Britt Towery, author of "Along the Way," welcomes
Images courtesy Library of Congress