America the Beautiful

“The New Colossus” is a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to help raise money to build the pedestal of the Statue Liberty. In 1903 the poem was engraved on a plaque and mounted on the pedestal.

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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Ellis Island

Like many Americans, I have ancestors who came through Ellis Island in search of a better place to raise a family, a more prosperous future, and for their piece of the American dream. My paternal grandfather was born in the U.S. in 1914 to Polish immigrants. His father originally made the voyage in 1909 from Zmigrod on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. He came alone to find work and save money in order to bring his family over. As my aunt said, “he would go back to Poland every few years to see his wife and father another child until he could afford to bring them all here.” My grandfather had three older sisters who were all born in Poland. He was the only boy in the family and the first one to go to and graduate from high school.

In many ways, you could say that they lived the American dream. Certainly my grandfather did very well for himself. He spent a few years in the Army, he was a lawyer, and he spent most of his career working for the government at the Interstate Commerce Commission. He married a beautiful young woman of German descent, raised two children who both went to college, and he retired very comfortably on his government pension. He spent his winters at this home in Naples, Florida and spent the summers traveling to various other cooler spots in the U.S.

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That’s the fairytale version. I was reminded of some of the grimmer details of my grandfather’s story while reading the Happy Meercat’s post on the Brexit vote. She was born in the UK to Polish immigrants. After describing how she and her family are often treated she asks, “Will I have to change my name and hide my family’s origins in order to truly feel British and be treated as a British citizen?  I feel that one day I may have to, and that is a world I fear moving forward into.”

My grandfather was born a Fruzynski, but died a Forbes. He made the decision to change his name because of the bigotry he suffered from his commanding officer during his service in the Army. He did not want his two children to suffer as he did, and so sometime around 1945, he changed the whole family’s surname.

In addition to his name, he lost the Polish language. His parents discouraged the children from speaking Polish. I’m not sure how much Polish he ever spoke, even as a child. I know that his older sisters, who learned Polish as their first language, could no longer speak it as adults.

Now being bi-lingual is seen by many, including our government, as an asset. There are language immersion programs in elementary schools and scholarships for learning critical languages. There is a push to send more U.S. students to study abroad to gain language skills and increase cultural competencies in order to be better prepared for the globalization that is upon us.

I’m afraid, though, that this same push for embracing our heritage and opening borders, combined with growing economic inequality is creating a backlash. There have always been those who fear change and resent the influx of immigrants, regardless of ethnicity or religion, but those voices are getting louder and uglier and are led currently by Donald Trump.

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All of the negative and hateful rhetoric detracts from the beauty of our country. At times I feel that I can no longer listen to the news or read about the atrocities, the mass shootings, and the hate crimes. I don’t believe in American exceptionalism, at least not how it is usually used. However, I do believe that there is exceptional beauty in this country. There is exceptional diversity in landscape, wildlife, and people. I am reminded of that often when I look at the calendar that my aunt and uncle sent me. For the past several years they have been making a calendar with breathtakingly gorgeous pictures that they take during their travels across the country. I leave you with a little eye candy of America the Beautiful from Aunt Bobbie & Uncle Mark. There’s a whole lot more at Box Canyon Blog. I highly recommend a visit.
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Daily Prompt: Island

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14 thoughts on “America the Beautiful

  1. Hi, Thank you for the link back to my post :). I remember we talked a bit about this. It’s such a shame that your father lost the Polish language as well as that piece of heritage, it’s such a shame that the voices of those that are so horrible and negative are so loud in the world.
    I guess we have to live in hope that the world will get better and what better way than to look at the stunning scenery you have there in America, it’s all very beautiful and I love the moose, I love moose in general, weird looking but cute.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you and yes I don’t really want to change my name, I’ve grown attached to it, lol. I hope it is just a temporary phase of the world, things are changing all the time so you never know, attitudes may shift the other way once again. Oh and moose always look like their heads are too big and their legs too long. I thought they are shy creatures but I’ve seen video clips of them in backyards! 😮

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelly,
    I too fear for our future as an “exceptional” country. Judging from the headlines, it seams “civilization” has peaked and is now on it’s way down. I also fear that the aggravating causes are complex beyond resolution.

    On a more cheerful, hopeful note—the only thing that keeps me hanging on—there are still wide open, unpopulated landscapes to run off to. If you can’t “beat em,” leave em.
    Thanks for reminding us to look back at who and where we came from, and for the glowing link 🙂
    Uncle Mark

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful essay, Kelly.

    Certainly in my lifetime, “American exceptionalism” has been used to justify all manner of sin on our part. A mentor of mine once said that pride is “I’m great, and together we make each other greater,” whereas arrogance is “I’m great and you’re s#!t”; I think all too often, American exceptionalism, as it were, manifests as arrogance.

    I love, however, the way you define American exceptionalism: “There is exceptional diversity in landscape, wildlife, and people.” If only we would learn to understand our exceptionalism as such, and not as a license to practice xenophobia and war.

    Sean

    Like

    1. Thanks Sean for stopping by and commenting. It’s nice to get such positive feedback from a writer!

      I agree with your assessment on pride vs. arrogance. I hope we can realign as a country and shift back to feeling more pride than arrogance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Kelly,

    Thank you for sharing your insights on the gains and struggles of migration. I am always amazed how much many Americans know about their own family history. So much inspiration can come from that.
    It is long ago that I had the chance to visit Ellis Island but I remember how touched I was, thinking of all the people who took on the often dangerous adventure to leave their old homes and find a new one – especially as one of the famous routes to New York started in my hometown Hamburg.

    You wrote:
    “I don’t believe in American exceptionalism, at least not how it is usually used. However, I do believe that there is exceptional beauty in this country.”
    Well stated! And I believe this hold true for all nations, each in their own way. No “better than” nor “less than”, only different shades of beauty.

    Love the “eye candy” from your aunt and uncle. Do I see the Tent Rocks on two of the images?

    Much love,
    Steffi

    Like

    1. Dear Steffi,
      Thanks for reading and commenting! I wish I knew more about my family history. I do know that my father’s maternal grandfather was born in Schönberg, Germany and immigrated to the U.S. in 1904. My dad was contacted a long time ago by a distant cousin in Germany and they had a few conversations. I think they had hoped to meet while we were living in Germany when I was a kid, but unfortunately it never happened.
      You are correct, there is beauty in every nation. That’s why traveling is so beneficial in helping to open one’s mind to those “different shades of beauty.”
      Most of those pictures from my aunt and uncle are of places I have yet to see. I will have to check on Tent Rocks. It could be!
      Take care,
      Kelly

      Liked by 1 person

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