“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!”
If you are like most people, you can’t hear the above referenced passage and not immediately think of the Statue of Liberty. Those words were penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as a part of a sonnet called New Colossus. The poem was actually written for a fundraiser to garner money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty rests, some 133 years later. Those infamous words were not inscribed at the base of the statue when it was installed in 1886. Lazarus would not live to see her words immortalized some seven years later on a plaque near the statue. But frequently, that’s how it goes.
One generation toils understanding that they likely won’t reap the benefit of their work. Whether it was Crispus Attucks, the first American killed in the American Revolution or Luis Alvarez, a former New York Police Department first responder that died this week battling cancer attributed to the 9/11 terror attacks, both men understood their lives were given to save others.Alvarez was an immigrant, who was brought to this country as a toddler— Attucks, was African-American. Their actions embody the spirit of July 4.
In thinking about the birth of this nation and the quest for independence, many who protect her today, do so understanding that they weren’t originally included in the language of her founding document.
Many who champion the ideas of “freedom and free will” fought long and hard to access those very rights. Many who stand in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty will tell you that free ain’t free. Freedom has come at a great cost.
And there are Americans from all walks of life who echo that sentiment. Native people were stripped of their land and their rights. Africans were ripped from their homeland and enslaved. Europeans to include the Spanish, British, and Dutch all arrived in what we today call America, in search of freedom.
From 1850 to 1892, Chinese workers immigrated to America. They helped build America’s roads, worked in mines and labored on farms.
Between 1892 to 1954, an estimated 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island in New York. The influx of people from Germany, Ireland, and England arrived often fleeing political, religious, and economic instability. Sound familiar? If you don’t the story of Ellis Island, the process of immigrant selection sounds a lot like proposals circulating today. Wealthy immigrants were welcome and those seeking an opportunity were marginalized. “Free ain’t free.”
As we think about what constitutes the meaning of the 4th of July this year, we should remember both the pitfalls and the opportunities that came with the nation’s founding. We should remember how and on whose back this country was built. We should remember that the wars fought, the rights gained, and the lessons learned were usually not for us, but for those that would come behind us. Most of all, I hope that we remember that it took all of us, natives, immigrants and the enslaved to make America great. Remove any of us from that history and there is no “America”.