There’s a reason the Statue of Liberty is not an armed warrior standing guard over the shores of New York and New Jersey. There’s a reason she is called Lady Liberty instead of Defender of the Homeland, and a reason she raises high a lamp to guide people safely to our shores.
The chains at her feet represent freedom from oppression, tyranny, and lack of opportunity, or maybe just the chance to leave the past behind and begin a new life in a place with no memory. Her presence at what once was the gateway to America has served as a symbolic gesture of welcome and acceptance to millions of people, even those who didn’t enter the United States through Ellis Island.
But she is, after all, only a statue. A metal frame covered in copper. She gives nothing tangible to anyone and doesn’t truly represent the mood or policies of our country on any given day. We often hear the excerpted quote from The New Colossus, the sonnet so closely associated with the Statue of Liberty because it is there on Liberty Island for visitors to see: “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” Unfortunately, too few people can finish even just that one line of the famous poem.
As a native New Yorker who willingly left the state a quarter century ago, there is little about New York that gets me choked up anymore. But, if I am truly honest with myself, the Statue of Liberty and the ideal for which she stands still do, which is why I find it difficult to stomach recent media coverage of the bile and bigotry being displayed by some of my fellow citizens at Central American children who have crossed our southern border seeking refuge from harsh conditions.
Think what you will about our immigration laws – the most impactful of which to the situation was put in place before the current administration took office – the sight of privileged adults angrily protesting and attempting to block the arrival of children who themselves are wrapped in bureaucratic red tape is sickening. Lies and rumors about diseases and drug cartels are being spread by local, state and federal elected officials to drive hysteria among ignorant isolationists and racist conspiracy theorists while these children live Spartan lives, drawing pictures and learning basic school lessons, as they await their fates.
And talk about missed opportunities! Rather than shouting horrid insults at twelve-year-olds and throwing up makeshift roadblocks to keep buses from entering your town, why not form a welcoming committee? You want these children, some of whom very likely will become American citizens, to love their new country? You want the ones who end up being deported to still dream of a United States that actually lives by the ideals it spouts to the rest of the world? Then what better way to accomplish that than by doing what most modern religions say is the right thing to do and offer love, hope and support to those among you who are less fortunate?
The Statue of Liberty might be situated far from Arizona, Texas and California, but she is a national symbol. Do yourself a favor. Read on a bit and take a moment to understand the meaning of all of the words of the sonnet by Emma Lazarus. In a country where only an infinitesimal percentage of our population can claim true native heritage, the words offered up by the Mother of Exiles should inspire us to be better than we have been of late.
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 lightening, 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!”