Sunday, June 17, 2007

Today in History: Lady Liberty arrives in the US

On this date in 1885, "Liberty Enlightening the World," the colossal monument to human freedom that would become popularized as the Statue of Liberty, came ashore in New York. As someone whose relatives made the same journey across the Atlantic, I consider it an occasion worth commemorating.

Because her raised torch was the first sight to greet immigrants making the long trip by sea in the first half of the 20th Century, the statue took on an added significance. It became a welcoming symbol to the downtrodden across the globe who sought refuge from economic and political hard times. It stands majestically as an icon to the best American qualities of tolerance, compassion and generosity.

It's appropriate that she arrived in 214 crates worth of pieces. Her assembly in New York's harbor is an apt metaphor for the immigrants who entered Ellis island to go on to reconstruct broken lives and families in this new world. The experience would forever change them, and they would go on to change our society for the better by contributing to its many economic successes.

In 1903, a bronze plaque inscribed with a sonnet by Emma Lazarus was installed inside the statue. Its words have been linked with the statue's image ever since. Unfortunately, their echoes have grown faint in the mind of some recent agitaters who have been scapegoating immigrants for every modern social ill. Here is the full text of the poem, which I hope will reawaken an understanding of what Lady Liberty and our country truly stand for:

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 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!"
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