We Ought To Remember

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Politics

Mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is a bronze plaque. On this bronze plaque are engraved the words of a poem by Emma Lazarus. The poem is titled “The New Colossus.” It reads as follows:

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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The character of a nation is both formed and revealed by what it remembers. Some whit renamed the 4th of July “Blow stuff up but not your fingers Day.” Is that all Independence Day has become. Just an excuse to blow stuff up? On the morning of the 4th my oldest child asked me what I felt when I looked upon our nations flag. After a moment’s thought I answered, “Sadness.”

It seems that we, citizens of the United States of America, have lost our past. The last stanza of Emma Lazarus’ poem are very poignant to me. Unless you are full blooded Native American, you are here thanks to the sentiment expressed in The New Colossus. My ancestors left “ancient lands” for a variety of reasons. They all came to the U.S. for one reason: Freedom. The freedom to make for oneself and ones family a better life. Freedom to live up to one’s full potential. What happened to the attitude of inviting the “tired…poor…huddled masses…[t]he wretched refuse…the homeless” which is expressed in these lines? Instead we now say, “Keep your problems. We might take your wealthy and self-sufficient, your well-educated and skillful, if they can prove their worthiness to set foot on our soil.”

I don’t imagine our past as some glorious utopia. The ancestors of my African American friends came as unwilling immigrants, not into a land of opportunity as my ancestors did, but into a land of bondage and servitude. And though freedom from ownership was technically won in the 19th Century, recent events have proven that equality and freedom from oppression has still not been realized. Our nation’s policy toward Asian immigration has always been broken despite the clear benefits such immigrants have provided the U.S. The treatment of the native population by European settlers and particularly the U.S. government has been, on the whole, negative.

These things too we ought to remember. We ought to remember our own past and the lives our ancestors sought or fought for in this land. In every arena there have been those who truly believed, as our Declaration of Independence states, that “all men were created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We ought to remember that most of us are the decedents of tired, poor immigrants who benefited by an open door policy. And we ought to declare boldly and clearly to all peoples and nations:

“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!”

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