I recently came across this simple graphic I put together and I took the opportunity to re-read this poem in its entirety. It hit me that I had neither heard nor read the complete poem by Emma Lazarus, entitled “The New Colossus,” before I had put this together (which was probably sometime last year) and, in fact, didn’t have much of a recollection of reading it back then.
So I then posted it on Twitter, which gave me the opportunity to read it a couple more times. Each time, I gained a bit more insight into the message Ms. Lazarus was attempting to convey, and each time I felt her message a bit more deeply.
It didn’t get that many likes, but it did generate enough feedback for me to pay really close attention to the poem, and I took the opportunity to read it several times. It finally brought me this image of my Bubbie, my paternal grandmother, along with my uncles Sam and Al and my aunt Sophie, arriving in New York from the Ukraine, where they had fled the pogroms. My grandfather, who I never knew, had made his way to Chicago and had worked to earn and save enough to send for all four of them to book “steerage” to the United States. My father was the first-born in the United States.
Reading her words and looking at this beautiful picture of the Statue of Liberty lifting “her lamp beside the golden door” moved me to tears as I thought of the struggles my ancestors must have endured, knowing as well that most of them never made it past their sixties, if they made it there. My father didn’t quite hit his 60th birthday before he died and, as I mentioned, I never knew my grandfather. I only saw my grandmother once that I can recall, as we lived in California and they lived in Chicago.
I also felt a deep sense of gratitude that my family was able to escape those pogroms relatively intact and they were able to resettle here in the U.S., where I was born a quarter century later. The more I read the poem, the deeper I feel that gratitude, though I’m disappointed to find things have been slipping backward in the struggle for justice and equality and in the level of welcome this country has traditionally shown (even if sometimes half-heartedly) to the ongoing flow of immigration.
I hope it moves some who read it as it moved me. This is the attitude I want my country to have toward immigration.