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The Weeping Colossus: Will They Shut My Golden Door?

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From the island I occupy in the bay, I see many things good and bad, and I have cried before, most notably on 9/11 when those buildings went down. When I used to see the overloaded boats bringing those hopeful faces to this new shore, I wept tears of joy, but now my tears are of sorrow. Are people forgetting the plaque that shines in the sun beneath my feet? Do they not remember the words of Emma Lazarus?

It does seem now, after all these years, that it was I who spoke those words, “Give me your tired, your poor,” for even if I am nothing more or less than the Mother of Exiles, my existence has meaning. I hold my torch aloft, have done so all these years, and it still does not make me tired. It has burned in the night for more than a century, sending a glow that can be seen around the world. Even in the darkest hovel its light brings hope, down the deepest valley, and on the highest mountain. I keep it burning bright because, even if one pair of eyes sees it anew, my purpose is accomplished.

Over the years as the people streamed from all those foreign lands, they passed me in their ships day and night, and I cared not about the color of their skin, what faith they embraced, what land they came from, or what language they spoke. They were all my new children moving toward the warm welcome of my embrace. Here they would be “huddled masses” no more; they would walk the streets, find homes for themselves, work the fields, labor in the cities, and they would become woven into the fabric of that flag that flies brilliantly across the land.

I was not here in the very beginning, in those times long before the white people came in their ships. My island belonged to another race: native people who were inhabitants of the land and are the only ones who can lay claim to not being immigrants. They must have watched the waters like I do now, wondering what was coming from far away. Eventually the white people came and kept coming, pushing them across a continent and almost dumping them into the next sea. I have wept for these resilient people too, and I am glad they would not just go quietly. Now I hope they stand as tall as they can and find a way to see me as their mother too.

All of the people who came from other lands were immigrants or slaves, but I do not discriminate for they are all Americans, whether they came freely or in chains, and they are my children now. I weep because some of them have forgotten their way. They do not remember having come here because it was their ancestors who came, but I remember for them all: Even the ones who came before I stood above the harbor with my torch. My America, my land of freedom, and its people of the manor and the meadow born, is flowing with the blood and sweat of all the countries in the world. There is tremendous strength in a lineage such as this, the many different streams coming together and forming one magnificent river.

But now I am weeping once again, and my tears flow because a new wave of immigrants is trying to land on our shores. Some of my children have forgotten their birthright was not kept from them, not yanked from their hands, but now they want to do this to people who only want to join the family, to be like all those who came before them were, moving into the country not to overwhelm it but to become part of it. The sweat of their brows will fall into our earth, their blood will mix with ours as all the others did before, and America will be stronger with this new infusion of spirit, as it has always become stronger with an influx of any of my children.

I call on all those who wish to stop the flow of these people who seek our freedom and way of life to remember the words I have silently spoken all these years: “Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me.” Stop my flowing tears, assuage my worries that my America will not become theirs too, for it cannot be that we will become like those “ancient lands” with their unforgiving ways. If we turn people away who need to come here, we send them back to a land of no hope and a valley of despair.

I do not want to collapse like my ancestor at Rhodes, though he was destined to fall as all those empires of long ago fell. They failed because they were not for the people but for the few, the power corrupting and ultimately strangling regime after regime. But here and now we must represent a shining example to the world, being the best the way we know we can be. We must welcome these new people, all the ones who long to breathe free air and look with hopeful eyes at the American flag that flutters from a symbolic pole on an island of opportunity in their hearts and minds.

After many years of suffering in silence, I will not be quiet anymore. Relinquish your plans to turn back the people who seek refuge here. Remember that we are all from someplace else, and that includes me. Yes, your symbol in the harbor, you warm and loving Mother of Exiles with the blazing torch is an immigrant as well. Since I am your mother, I tell you that all those whom you wish to turn away are your siblings, and you must not treat them this way. I have taught you better than that.

Let these people come into our land and be part of our family, let them flow into the great cities and rolling fields and become part of the whole. Allow me to continue to say “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” for if that door ever truly closes, everything and everyone that has come before and all their dreams for tomorrow will be irrevocably lost, and thus our family will be torn asunder, and we will never recover. Eventually I too will fall into the harbor, sinking under the water and burrowing deep into the silt, and the light of my torch will be dark forevermore.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Victor,

    You wrote a fascinating article, truly fit for a literary magazine. As a child, my father never failed to point out the Statue of Liberty he had passed on the way to Ellis Island in late 1921. I visited the place quite a few times, and like any other kid living in New York, got to climb all the way to the top, counting the stairs as I did.

    This poem was one of the few my father, who had a formal education that ended at the 6th grade, knew:

    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!”

    But these lines of yours haunted me with a video I remembered seeing.

    I do not want to collapse like my ancestor at Rhodes, though he was destined to fall as all those empires of long ago fell. They failed because they were not for the people but for the few, the power corrupting and ultimately strangling regime after regime.

    I was reminded of this video describing the role of the Statue of Liberty in prophecy.

    The video is 20 minutes long, in Hebrew, with English sub-titles. It haunts me to this day.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Inspirational, Victor.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Thanks, Roger!

    Ruvy, I will check out that video.

  • http://corp-minamiji.typepad.com Christy Corp-Minamiji

    Thank you, Victor. This is beautifully written and was humbling to read.

  • khalid

    Great content Vitor!

  • Khmer

    Being a Cambodian immigrant reading this article really hits home. Truly inspirational.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Excellent Article…

    Though, it is a bit slanted. I agree with Kimberly(#12) that they can’t just spew over the borders illegally just to send funds back home. They need to go through the citizenship process & make a commitment to this country.

    Yes, my family immigrated here from Italy but they also paid their dues by assimilating and fighting for their country when it was absolutely necessary(WWI,WWII & Vietnam). Not, like this new wave that not only evades authority but has no respect for our laws(Drugs, Murder,etc). These are the aliens that tarnish the reputation of those immigrants who worked hard to become American citizens and who still work hard because they believe in our great country and don’t treat it as a door mat!

    Hopefully, our Lady Liberty will have better vision next time…

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for all the comments.

    Just remember, the “door” has to be open for immigrants to come in, become citizens, and contribute to this country. If the door is shut, that can never happen.

  • http://deathknellforseriouscriticism.blogspot.com/ Kate

    Hi Victor:

    Well done! Speaking for my own personal understanding and experience of the issue, I’ve always suspected that my grandparents “walked” in to the US from Ireland by way of Canada, so I live in a glass house when it comes to the immigration topic. Most of us do live in such transparency whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

    All incoming ethnic groups are met with hostility no matter what the current “political issue” might be, e.g. No Irish Need Apply. And there’s always crime involved when these groups are forced to form subcultures in urban areas. The present Hispanic immigrants, legal or not, do not have the monopoly on crime (murder, drugs cited by a previous commenter). Just ask anyone familiar with the history of South Boston.

    On a more positive note, the statue is always a thrill to see, no matter how many times, in a New Yorker’s daily life.

    Thanks for your article.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @16,

    Yes, I agree, the “door” shouldn’t be locked but it also should NOT be swinging wide open.

    @17,
    Where is it in my comment that I mentioned or pointed to the Hispanic community?!

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Brian, re: comment #15: Yes, my family immigrated here from Italy but they also paid their dues by assimilating and fighting for their country when it was absolutely necessary(WWI,WWII & Vietnam). Not, like this new wave that not only evades authority but has no respect for our laws (Drugs, Murder,etc).

    The early wave of Italian immigration (which all four of my grandparents were part of) also brought with it a fairly sophisticated organized crime structure that led people to unfairly characterize Italian-Americans as people who had no respect for our laws. Those prejudices persist to this day in some quarters. So the problems you describe are as old as the history of immigration, and certainly aren’t the province of any specific group of immigrants.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for the comment, Lisa.

    All immigrant groups have had their fair share of bad press over the years, but this is usually for the few who choose to do things the wrong way. The majority who live, sweat, work, and pay taxes are the ones for whom we must leave open the door.

    I’d say most immigrants come here because they want to be Americans. My great grandfather came here first from Italy. Yes, he did send money home to support his wife and children. He worked hard and then he sent for them to come join him.

    This story has been told countless times over for people from nations all over the globe, and it is what has made America a beautiful and multivalent nation.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Absolutely true, Victor, and we mustn’t allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that the current wave of immigrants are any different than the waves who came before. The bad apples are always a minority — and the rest enrich the fabric of our society in innumerable ways.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “fall into the trap of thinking that the current wave of immigrants are any different than the waves who came before.”

    Umm…the difference is that the ones who came before came here legally?!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @19,

    It’s great to take things out of context,isn’t it? In order to make people look like they are xenophobes! I was speaking about my own family and not any particular group.

    But this “undocumented” wave is different. You can’t deny that.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Very poetic, Victor, but the sentiments on the Statue of Liberty were written by the French, and look where their open door policy has gotten them.

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Brian, I agree that the illegality problem adds an extra dimension to the issue, but when you say things like this: Not, like this new wave that not only evades authority but has no respect for our laws(Drugs, Murder,etc) it sure makes it sound like you’re describing a whole group.

    What context did I remove it from? My point is simply this: the “new wave” of immigrants is certainly composed of good people and bad people (whether they are here legally or not). In this regard, they are exactly like every other wave of immigrants this country has ever seen. Most of the people who speak out against illegal immigration harp on the bad as if it describes the entire group. It doesn’t.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @25 – This is the context: “These are the aliens that tarnish the reputation of those immigrants who worked hard to become American citizens and who still work hard because they believe in our great country and don’t treat it as a door mat!”

    I maybe should have said “those current immigrants” but it was you who assumed I meant my ancestors.

    Lisa, I’m glad that you feel there are lesser deviations to breaking the law and that sneaking into another country is not the biggest part of the problem,but, whether or not these immigrants came here to work or commit crime that whole group did something bad and they shouldn’t be viewed separately. If you want to be an American, then do it the right & lawful way!

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    The problem of illegal immigration has been around for decades. When I was a kid, Greek and Cretan kids looking for a better life would get jobs on steamships, sail into New York or San Francisco or some other port, sneak off the boat at night their pay and with scribbled instructions to get to a brother or cousin’s house, and turn up a couple of days later washing dishes in a restaurant, or working as an illegal stevedore. The fellow from the state department of labor was duly bribed, and the kid sneaking into America built a life in the States as an American, happy to do so, and grateful to be there.

    It appears that the wave of undocumented ‘immigrants’ from Mexico are indeed different. They believe in Aztlan; they believe (even if they never say it openly) in recovering Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico for the mother country – while somehow keeping the benefits of living in American society, such as they are. They believe (as do all poor people) in escaping poverty and sending money home to mom and dad. And there are plenty of guilty “liberals” to help them on the one hand, and plenty of greedy employers looking for cheap labor on the other. And the ideologues on both sides just don’t understand how to deal with the issue. They are caught on their own barbed wire of ideological issues. They want to avoid “racism”, avoid eroding employers’ few remaining liberties, they fear to stand accused of hindering “diversity”, they don’t want to break up families, etc., etc. – but on the other hand, they are encouraging breaking the law.

    This is not “immigration” or an issue of immigration at all. This is an issue of conquest – a “war like no other”. And Americans, ignorant entirely of how they emasculated the Mexican state, do not comprehend that this is not an issue of immigration at all.

    I’m not sure the migrants really understand it either, but once they get to the States, they do develop a sub-culture to cope with the problems of dealing with legal Mexican immigrants (who resent them) and a government that does not really know what to do with them. I’m not sure that they even realize that it is a culture of occupation and colonization.

    I politely suggest that this issue of “la reconquista” be divorced from those of immigration entirely. Let Lady Liberty offer her welcoming hand as long as she is allowed to stand.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Brian,

    It doesn’t matter anymore. The legal-illegal distinction may have been viable years ago when the country knows as America was still believed to have an integrity of a kind. But given the present state of discord, disintegration, not to mention her reneging on “the promise,” the whole issue is a dead horse.

    Anyways, we’re all moving towards a unified world, screw the national allegiances and boundaries, so why not just go with the flow? It’s going to happen, if not sooner than later.

  • zingzing

    brian, people like you hated people like you when people like you first got to this country, legal or not. there will always be the immigrant and there will always be the anti-immigration nutters.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Dave,

    Very poetic, Victor, but the sentiments on the Statue of Liberty were written by the French, and look where their open door policy has gotten them.

    The Statue of Liberty was a gift of the French (Bartholdi originally intended it to stand at the northern edge of the Suez Canal, a veiled lady celebrating the partly French owned canal, but the Egyptian emir rejected the offer), but the sentiments on the statue were written by Emma Lazarus – who was Jewish.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @29,

    Sounds pretty witty but holds very little intelligence or knowledge for that matter(As Usual).

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Oh and BTW,zing, just because your life is rife with Anarchy doesn’t mean rules shouldn’t apply.

  • zingzing

    my life is rife with anarchy? how do you know? what are you talking about? i’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean…

    “Sounds pretty witty but holds very little intelligence or knowledge…”

    so you’re saying that back in the day immigrants were greeted with open arms by everyone? that there never was anyone who despised immigrants for coming here and taking american jobs?

    please.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @28,

    Well, sh!t, if America is truly in this state that you speak of then why should we care about anything anymore,huh? So, stop yer b!tching over in the political section because it doesn’t matter anymore,right?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Not at all. We’re entering a new era and I’m very far from bitching, Brian. In fact, I’m very hopeful.

    I’m sorry if you’re stuck on the past.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    @24

    Dave,

    Emma Lazarus was an American poet born in New York City.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @35,

    Okay, Roger, I’ll bite… What’s this new era that you speak of? Though, I would hardly call what I have said in my comments as being stuck in the past…

  • Karin Watt

    I came to this free and beautiful country in 1956 from a war ravaged Germany. Before I emigrated I had to go to an interview at the American Consulate in Hamburg, Germany. I received a small brochure outlining what the new country expected from me. Some of the items were that I would respect its laws, learn English and be at the same time an ambassador for my home country Germany. I am saddened to see how much we have downgraded the laws of the United States in order to be accommodating and allow illegal immigration. My question is to every one who feels that people who can enter our borders illegally, do they also have the right to drive without a drivers license, if they cannot find work steal for their existence, use our medical services for free, kill if some one protects their property against them as they did in Arizona? Where will it end, and when will we stand up for the right to protect our borders as any other nation in the world does. Immigrating to a foreign country is a privilege not a right!!