“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!”
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 His father originally made the voyage in 1909 from Zmigrod on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.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.
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.
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.