The United States is a nation of immigrants, and the children of immigrants, coming to America for over four hundreds years. From the first Spaniard and Englishmen to the current Latinos and Asians. Emma Lazarus’ 1883 famous poem rings true today more than ever. It is immortalized on a bronze plaque at the base of New York’s Statue of Liberty (then called Liberty Enlightening the Word). Her own grandparents were Portuguese Jews who had fled their homeland.
My own grandparents traveled to the US from Eastern Europe, as mere teenagers, just before World War I. In the face of abject poverty, they abandoned the lives they knew, dreamt of, and found a better life in America. The statue would have been one of the first things they saw from the rail of their steamship in New York harbor. What they must have felt at that moment, standing by the railing, we can only imagine. They would soon be off for processing at Ellis Island and a new future as Americans.
We all have heard the famous line: ‘Give us your tire, your poor, your huddled masses.” She wrote it in 1883 as part of the fundraising effort to build the stone pedestal for Lady Liberty. But read Emma Lazarus’ entire sonnet below – slowly and carefully, perhaps for the very first time. Take in each stanza and pause to reflect on the words. Read it with your children, or better yet your grandchildren. Ponder the meaning of each line, the promises of Hope, Freedom and Liberty, to ALL immigrants. Then say a prayer for all those immigrants and refugees, those ‘tempest-tost’ still attempting to do the same thing today.
THE NEW COLOSSUS
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.
“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!”
– Emma Lazarus, 1883
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