A History Lesson and Unsolicited Commentary

"The New Colossus"

Photo credit: Engraving by T. Johnson, 1872. Courtesy of The New York Historical Society.

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!”

poet
Emma Lazarus

 

From: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/emma-lazarus

A descendant of Sephardic Jews who immigrated to the United States from Portugal around the time of the American Revolution, Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. Before Lazarus, the only Jewish poets published in the United States were humor and hymnal writers. Her book Songs of a Semite was the first collection of poetry to explore Jewish-American identity while struggling with the problems of modern poetics.

Following the publication of Songs of a Semite, Lazarus wrote several prose pieces concerned with the historical and political interests of the Jewish people, and traveled to France and England, where she met and befriended literary figures, such as Robert Browning and William Morris.

After returning from Europe, Lazarus was asked for an original poem to be auctioned off as a fundraiser for the building of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Though she initially declined, Lazarus later used the opportunity to express the plight of refugee immigrants, who she cared greatly about.*  Her resulting sonnet, "The New Colossus", includes the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," and is inscribed on a plaque on the pedestal of the monument.

 

*My commentary:

The "sound byte" selection from "The New Colossus," as the inscription for the base of the Statue of Liberty is an example of unintended consequences.  Emma Lazarus was an opportunistic activist with a passion, an agenda and a public platform for her opinionated prose.  In this particular instance that platform physically supports the Statue of Liberty and Emma's commentary is forever linked to that universally recognized symbol of freedom and an interpretation of unrestricted, flow of "wretched refuse" streaming freely into The United States of America. 

The truth is, The United States of America, arguably the most generous nation in the history of planet earth, has always regulated immigration by race, country of origin, numbers, skill sets and health.  The "wretched refuse" admitted into the United States once willingly abandoned old world values and adopted an American identity as a unifying characteristic with their new homeland.  This unifying identity has been redefined with the advent of "multi-culturalism" and "diversity;" a strategy to divide and isolate social elements into special victim groups for the purpose of advancing a political ideology.

Conveniently omitted from the Statue of Liberty inscription is the line: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips," suggesting the American ideal is a nation governed, not of nobility but of common men; an idea unique in the era of American founding.  The inclusion of this line would have emphasized the founding principle of the nation and perhaps mitigated the increasingly popular misconception that The United States of America is open range for all manner of human jetsam and flotsam -- American Exceptionalism; another unifying, patriotic concept diminished for the sake of advancing a political ideology.

Physical, geographic barriers have moderated the pace of social change since the beginning of time.  Man has regulated the speed of social evolution since the beginning of time.  Historically, physical barriers have proven to be effective in prolonging the survival of individuals and societies against those elements that would cause harm or discomfort. The utility and effectiveness of walls is not the true issue in the current social debate.  The real question is:  How rapid our pace of social change?  How soon do you want the America you know, to be reinvented into some other, yet to be defined, society? Evolution or revolution? 

How quickly do you want to become Mexico?  How quickly do you want to become Somalia?  How quickly do you want to become any other nation on earth:  Guatemala, Venezuela, Denmark, France, China -- Detroit?!

Change is inevitable.  It is the pace of change that most disturbs us.  A wall can regulate the pace of change as it has effectively done throughout human existence.  A wall can be a symbol of solidarity and security.  The concepts of solidarity and security are counter productive to perpetual social turmoil; in recent history, a condition artificially created to reap political advantage for a particular ideology.

Is America the only place on earth bearing a world-wide expectation to provide a haven for wretched refuse?  Does wretched refuse have any obligation to strive toward creating a safe haven for their brethren, in their home of origin?  Is the future of American society defined by one selected line from one passionate poet's emotional composition, drafted at a single moment in time?  Are we obliged to devolve into a land of wretched refuse in an unprecedented and unrealistic quest to satisfy the material aspirations of all the world's "have nots?"  Are we destined to launch into a foolhardy endeavor to try, simply to satisfy the aspirations of ego driven politicians?

I suggest we are already well on our way to a land of wretched refuse, even without foreign influence.  One need only observe teenagers in a mall or elected representatives in government to find home grown wretched refuse and disturbing symbols of the rapid pace of social change toward what many believe to be a cynical and sinister direction.  What was once appalling is now common place.  What was once repulsive is now accepted.  What was once truth is now opinion.  What was once national pride is now national shame.  What Americans once built, . . . "You didn't build that!" 

A wall seems the most reasonable approach to the unreasonable expectations of: invading hordes of wretched refuse and of spectator nation states, willing to be rid of the burden of their indigenous wretched refuse.   Equally unreasonable American sympathizers to the invaders' cause, refuse to acknowledge the validity of a barrier; but will readily give my riches and your riches to pacify the invaders and will continue to perpetuate social turmoil at an ever increasing pace for political advantage.

Despite Emma Lazarus' motivating passion 136 years ago -- Today, whatever slows the "hand basket to Hell," I'm for.


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  • Michael Kauskey