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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
~New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
I imagine that the last five lines of this sonnet were the most recognizable as they are engraved on a plaque in front of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue was a gift from France on June 19, 1885 as a sign of friendship, alliance and enlightenment. The torch was originally to show that the western world was united in enlightenment and stood as leaders of the free world. However, that original intention has greatly shifted throughout history. In 1892 Ellis Island opened in the shadow of our beloved Lady Liberty creating a distinct connection between “America, the Land of Opportunity”, and Lady Liberty’s torch welcoming immigrants as they entered. There is a complicated and often horrifying history connected to Ellis Island and a far too long list of racist and anti-immigration laws that scar our national pride. Over 12 million immigrants went through Ellis Island and on their journey in, whether it was first class or in the unsanitary and dehumanizing conditions of 3rd class passengers, the Statue of Liberty was the first glimpse of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. For over 200 years, America has given the world a promise through symbols like the Statue of Liberty, Lady Justice and even though our Constitution. Yet, historically and even today America does not consistently uphold their promise. The Statue of Liberty today is an international symbol for immigration and welcoming those fleeing danger, persecution, famine and war and yet here we are still debating about immigration policy and facing disgraceful rhetoric from so many of our country’s politicians.
I fully understand that national security is a serious and highly prioritized issue and I value the safety and protection my government and constitution gives me every single day. Yet my patriotism is tarnished daily by our historical and systemic disregard for all people seeking asylum. Our country was founded on a set of ideals, the idea that “all men are created equal” and we all have the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and yet we have rejected and deserted so many people who have looked to the Statue of Liberty and believed in America’s promise and ideas of equal opportunity and trusted that we would help them, just as Emma Lazarus's poem says. Emma Lazarus was a Jewish American poet who worked closely with Ralph Waldo Emerson and found herself an advocate for immigrant rights, and the Zionist movement. An immigrant’s words stand as some of the most famous words of our nation and yet we consistently renege on the people who believe and need hers, ours, America’s words the most.I believe in Lazarus’s words and I believe that America can and should stand as a symbol of hope, ambition, opportunity, and freedom for all people. I dream of a day when that symbol is a reality. I dream of a day when America welcomes people of all colors, ethnicities, cultures and countries. I dream of a day when our nation can proudly stand unified and know in our hearts and minds that we do accept all those who need the American promise. I hope and yearn for a day when that sonnet that rests next to the Statue of Liberty is spoken with confidence, vulnerability and truth and not smeared by falsehoods and ambiguity. I hope that my beautiful nation will one day be the welcoming home for all who need it just as it is for me.