I caught this picture on National Geographic’s Instagram page a couple days ago. The simplicity of it reminded me first of lines from Emma Lazarus’ 1883 sonnet, “The New Colossus.” It’s engraved at the base of the statue of liberty (though not until 1903, at the persistence of her friend Georgina Schuyler). Emma had a rich history around immigration, herself, and her eventual pursuance of that prompted a legacy of service to others. After learning about the immigration of Ashkenazi Jews from Russia in 1881, she wrote widely about it and advocated for Jewish refugees. “She helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training to assist destitute Jewish immigrants to become self-supporting.” Also inspired by “The New Colossus” was another one of Emma’s friends (the daughter of Nathanial Hawthorne) who founded the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.
“The New Colossus”
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!”
Second, I thought the above photo showed well the anxiety around the Muslim immigration executive order. The United States is a nation of immigrants. Many people groups have come here to escape tyranny, poverty, and economic difficulties. Originally intended as a symbol of independence for the United States, the statue of liberty came to also represent freedom to those who choose to come here.
Many are entreating the nation to remember this history. Not just that we all came here from somewhere–Ireland, Africa, Italy, Germany, Mexico, etc.–but also that if allowed to sink into fear, history can (and does) repeat itself. George Takei highlights the words of Carl Higbie and reminds us of an easily forgotten point:
“‘We did it during World War II with Japanese, which, you know, call it what you will,” [Higbie] said. Was he really citing the Japanese American internment, [Megyn] Kelly wanted to know, as grounds for treating Muslims the same way today? Higbie responded that he wasn’t saying we should return to putting people in camps. But then he added, “There is precedent for it.’
Stop and consider these words. The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a ‘precedent’ or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred.”
Because they looked like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Punishing many for the actions of a select group.
The reality of jihad extremism is real. But like the Japanese and other ethnic groups, we must actively remember not to conflate advocating safety with creating a caricature of monsters. Don’t give yourself over to fear. Choose to make room for listening and understanding. Everyone has needed it, and we’ll all keep needing it.