“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor….”

Hail the Statute of Liberty: Who We Were, Can We Ever Be Again?

Unless you are an immigrant (like me), or the child(ren) of immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, proud, and knowledgeable of your heritage, you may not fully appreciate the lyrics of the “Statute of Liberty” song. Or maybe you do. Or maybe you didn’t even know there was a song. Maybe recognize the first stanza, but didn’t really ever stop to wonder about its origin, let alone know that it came from a song.  Indeed, maybe you thought those words were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, or some other founding document that Americans cling to with such understandable pride.  Maybe they should be.

The Statute of Liberty was designed by a Frenchman, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi.  He was enamored with classic Egyptian architecture, the pyramids and monumental sculpture. And, like every great architect looking for something to commemorate, Bartholdi decided (in the 1860s) to construct a monument to commemorate the opening of Egypt’s Suez Canal.  The original concept was for the monument to be constructed in the form of  a woman was dressed in Arab peasant garb, holding a torch.  Sadly, when Egypt’s ruler went bankrupt, the project was scrapped.

But like all great history, one pasha’s misfortune is another President’s good luck; Grover Cleveland, to be exact. Upon learning of the coming centennial of the American Revolution,” Bartholdi thought to retrofit his design to fit the themes of the Revolution, and redesigned the lady with the lamp — originally dressed in Arab peasant garb — into a Greco-Roman goddess of liberty.  The Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886, was thus given as a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States of America, planted in New York Harbor, the global gateway to freedom for millions of refugees and immigrants.  France, without whose political and military assistance the American Revolution could not have succeeded, had given America a gift that she could then return to the entire world.  A light, at once real and symbolic.

Read these words, and imagine if they have any relevance today, 121 years later

*                    *                    *

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!

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-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

*                    *                    *
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, indeed.  We would do well to ask, has that light from the “lamp beside the golden door” just dimmed, or has it been extinguished forever?

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