My father came to this country in 1947…the year before I was born.
Dad had minimal English and began his new life in New York shoveling coal on the Staten Island Ferry.
He was a hard worker and over time his English became functional. He gained citizenship and got a skilled labor job, repairing heavy oil burners. It was what he did for the rest of his work life and he did it well.
As their child, I always knew my parents weren’t working for themselves. They did what has always made America both different and great. They committed themselves to the next generation – to the future. I understood my obligation in that formula.
My father was a patriot to his adopted nation. He was grateful to and loved a country that opened its doors and allowed him the opportunity to be as free and equal as any other American.
While dad was not born in this country, I was…eleven months after the boat. His life and the chance the United States gave to him – to our family – has stayed with me all my life. Being an immigrant family in the U.S. was not without struggle. Yet, it gave a chance to work hard toward betterment both personally and for the nation.
This morning when I heard that two Senators, one from Arkansas the other from Georgia, were cosponsoring a bill to halve legal immigration and favor the elites in coming to this nation, I thought back to a conversation I had at the end of the 1980’s. It was with a citizen of a state that historically had low immigration rates. He was from a (self-described) old and respected family. It was a time when NY Governor Mario Cuomo was being spoken of as a possible presidential candidate. The young man’s words were unforgettable to me. He looked me in the eye and spoke slowly and clearly: “I don’t think people in my part of the country will ever vote for someone whose name they cannot pronounce.”
That was not a reflection of the America I have loved and I do not believe that it is a reflection of the good people in any part of this country. However, it is an opinion that challenges America’s greatness at its root. It must be addressed whenever it rears its head.
This afternoon, from the White House press podium, the words of Emma Lazarus were attempted to be made meaningless. A representative of our President (as he spoke of the President’s backing of the new bill) reflected the spirit of the mid 1800’s anti-immigrant Native American Party, later renamed American Party, but forever remembered in American history as the Know-Nothings
The Know-Nothings were built upon fear of German and Irish immigrants and the growth of a Catholic voting bloc. The United States of America survived that and, with the help of people of good will, will survive this time of calculated division.
As long as America remains great, the words of Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus, enshrined inside Lady Liberty, will always have meaning and define us…
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!”
God bless America and the values on which we were built.