Symbols are powerful signs that can evoke love, hate, joy, sorrow, triumph, and many more emotions. One of America’s iconic symbols is the Statue of Liberty. Conceived by Edouard Rene de Laboulaye before the Civil War, it was not reconstructed on Ellis Island until October 28, 1886. According to Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 2, 1887 “Native-born Americans could barely perceive how the sight of the statue would unleash a torrent of pent-up emotions in immigrants – most of whom had been praying that they might live to one day see its welcoming outstretched arms.”
The Statue of Liberty still evokes these emotions in immigrants as well as native-born Americans. Often we forget that all of us (except Native Americans) came to America’s shores as immigrants; whether our ancestors came in steerage, walked across the Mexican or Canadian border, came to work on the railroads, or mines or came as slaves. Our history is filled with hard words, bigotry, anti-immigration laws, racism, and actions against these new immigrants. Irish, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Polish, Russian, Scottish, Afro-Americans, and immigrants of all stripes faced hardships and anti-Semitism when they first arrived.
Our history also shows that we have become a stronger nation through the efforts of the new immigrants. Recent data from the National Academy of Sciences found “that children of immigrants are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the population. This second generation contributed more in taxes on a per capita basis than did non-immigrants in the period studied, 1994-2013.”
Fittingly, a poem by Emma Lazarus, an immigrant, written in 1883 to help raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal stills transcends time and sets an emotional tenor for immigrants. She wrote,
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!
Let’s not forget where we all came from and open our doors and hearts to those seeking political, economic, and religious freedom.