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!
Do you know these words? Of course, most Americans know this is part of an inscription on the Statue Liberty, words written by Emma Lazarus. This week the United States takes a moment to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of that great statue in New York City harbor. I am not an immigrant. I was born less than 6 miles from the place that I write these words. In addition, except for two short periods, I have never lived much farther from that place. Nevertheless, I am the child of immigrants who themselves immigrated to two different countries because of the outcome of World War 2.
My Father and Mother came to this country in 1952 from what was then West Germany. My parents became citizens in 1959 and proudly went on their first visit to the old country that same year as American citizens. Dad was always proud of America, but even as a newcomer, he saw inequality among its citizens. He was by no means a progressive crusader, and he never made great effort to help promote enlightened attitudes, but he always had hope that all immigrants and citizens would be treated fairly as he had been at his arrival.
America was gifted the Statue of Liberty by France in observance of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Yet money to fund her construction was difficult to secure because of the Panic of 1873-a panic being was we call a recession today. Some people even had concerns that a non native-born citizen was head of the project. In reading the history of Lady Liberty, I began to feel that many of the same issues facing us today were happening in the 1870’s and 1880’s.
We seem to be country of contrasting opinions, and my Father used to say that was one of the features that made America great. But he also knew that compromise was something that must always be part of the process. My parents came from places were only one side had the political power and it ultimately corrupted and destroyed those nations. I like to think that as a country, Americas can still come to see all sides and find a common middle. We cannot give up the core of our success.
The other day, in celebration of her 125th birthday, there was a naturalization ceremony for 125 new American citizens at the Statue of Liberty. Those new Americans represented 46 different nations. I have been to several naturalization ceremonies and I am always as emotional as the participants are. I am proud to be American, and even more grateful that I don’t have to leave my home country as my parents had to, and for that, I take a moment to thank Lady Liberty for lighting the way for all of us Americans, whither born in the USA or having had to travel great distances to see her shining light.
Gabriela Waechter ~ Contributing Editor