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!”
This poem New Colossus was written by Emma Lazarus for a fundraiser to complete the construction of the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe Island in New York Harbor in 1886. The people of France gave the copper sculpture to Americans to celebrate the emancipation of slaves and the survival of the democracy in the United States following the Civil War that ended in 1865. It had been shipped in 350 pieces, however, and was no small task to assemble – not to mention the additional $120,000 of expenses that would be necessary for the project.
Emma Lazarus initially declined to participate in the Libertas construction fundraising efforts because she was very much involved in the movement to relocate Jews fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in eastern Europe and relocating them in the United States. Luckily, she reconsidered and found a way to express her own activist feelings in a poem with powerful words that have become almost as famous as the iconic statue itself in welcoming the brave people who cross oceans and continents to find a home in the land of the free. The last lines of New Colossus are on a plaque in the museum at the base of the monument.
Last night in Phoenix, Arizona – a city that is 2,400 miles from New York Harbor – a brazen giant of the very small screen rewrote New Colossus as he talked once more about building a Great Wall along the US/Mexican border to keep the huddled masses yearning to breathe free south of the border down Mexico way where they belong. Don’t send your tired…and certainly not your poor…northward. We don’t want them. As a matter of fact, we are deporting 12 million Latinos who live in this country through a hole in the Great Wall back to you. See how you like them apples, my new BFF President Nieto.
And don’t think we want any wretched refuse from your teeming shores in eastern Europe or the Mid East, either. A hundred thirty years ago in 1886 the problem we were worried about bringing over to America was the Jewish refugees – now it’s the Muslims. Sometimes it’s hard to keep straight exactly who we want and who we don’t want. But I’m pretty sure now it’s Muslims and Mexicans in the don’t want category. Hm…something about the M words…gosh, next it might be the Morrises that we need to deport. They’ve always been a suspect family group.
Innnnyhowww, as my friend Libby Levinson used to say to me, I’m thinking of a four-letter word that rhymes with Fall and it turns out to be Wall, a wall that has become a talking point in the 2016 presidential campaign in these United States by he who shall remain nameless. A wall meant to separate, to divide, to exclude – a wall that has captured the imagination of millions of potential voters in November.
When T and I drove to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in March to watch our Lady Gamecocks play basketball, we took a small detour through downtown Sioux Falls on a sleepy Sunday morning after an early spring snowfall. We were looking for the park where the actual Sioux Falls were located. I never will forget the three people, two men and one woman, who were standing on a corner of the main street in town holding a homemade sign which read: Build The Wall.
If people in the Midwest were worried about the border between my home state of Texas and neighboring Mexico, the light from the lamp of the lady in the harbor in New York City was surely gradually dimming and in danger of going out. But of course the Mother of Exiles will overcome the doubters and naysayers and continue to glow her world-wide welcome to those who need her and the Great Wall will remain where it belongs – in China.
At least, that’s what I’m counting on.