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.