In 1883, a Jewish-American named Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) penned “The New Colossus” to help raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sun-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!”
Lazarus’s now-famous sonnet casts America the Beautiful as a haven for outcasts and Lady Liberty as their regal benefactress. As a result, it also serves to illustrate how immigrants have shaped—and reshaped—the American Dream.
Like Britannia of Britain, Columbia of America, and Marianne of France, Lady Liberty is based on Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty, notably worshipped by emancipated slaves. Lady Liberty is crowned with a seven-rayed aureole or halo to evoke the sun, the seven seas, and the seven continents. The torch in her right hand represents enlightenment, while the tabula ansata in her left hand is inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence—”JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776)—to associate liberty with law. Her right foot indicates forward movement, or progress, as she tramples the broken chain of tyranny beneath her feet. Her creator, the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904), called her La Liberté éclairant le monde, “Liberty Enlightening the World.”
It wasn’t until Ellis Islanders began to pass beneath her “mild eyes” that she became the patron saint of American immigration. A Greek immigrant recalled:
I saw the Statue of Liberty. And I said to myself, “Lady, you are such a beautiful [sic]! You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America. And always that statue was on my mind.
The immigrant’s gratitude and joy are heartwarming and infectious—not like the sense of entitlement encountered today. Like other nations, America’s history of immigration is checkered, despite its belief that “all men are created equal.” Perhaps nothing has changed but the attitude of the immigrants themselves. Once upon a time, immigrants gazed at Lady Liberty with tears in their eyes; now they come to America expecting the New World to be just the same as their old one. To be fair, it’s not always clear whether they’re bringing this nonadaptive attitude with them or if it’s an antinationalistic agenda being concocted and circulated by our own leftist media. Some of the immigrants I’ve spoken to seem to have a high regard for the US, seeing it as a land of opportunity that offers a better quality of life than the one they left behind. But the left wants to use these people to create a multicultural America with no overarching, national characteristics based on our own history or traditions. Their argument is that a nation “built on the backs of slaves” has no right to uphold the “bigotry,” “discrimination,” “racism,” “sexism,” or “white supremacy” of our founding fathers.
First, as John Locke (1632–1704) tells us in Of the Abuse of Words, you can’t have an argument without defining your terms. My definitions of the above words are from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. The left is known for misusing or redefining extremist language in order to win their arguments. In other words, they cheat, verbally. For example, according to Merriam-Webster, a white supremacist is “a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races” (emphasis mine). An example of this would be the British colonization of Africa, India, or even, arguably, of America. It can’t be accurately, appropriately, or justifiably applied to people who identify traditional Americanism with white, Protestant values and culture, as that isn’t an opinion but a historical fact, which no amount of 1984 Big Brothering, deconstructionism, or “sanitization” is ever going to change.
Second, disrespecting American values because the people who instituted them happened to be white males from Protestant backgrounds is itself bigoted and discriminatory, as well as potentially racist and sexist. You don’t earn the right to protest injustice by being unjust. That’s not justice; that’s hypocrisy. You can’t fight hypocrisy with hypocrisy. Furthermore, good values are good values, regardless of who does or doesn’t practice them. Poor application of those values, or downright failure to apply those values, doesn’t negate the values themselves. The question isn’t whether American history is unimpeachable but whether any other nation has done things any better. As our immigration records suggest, the answer to both questions is arguably “no.”
Leaving your homeland for another isn’t easy. No matter how prepared you are, nothing will ever be the same as it was in your own country—nor should you expect it to be. You’re entering a new culture with its own history, language, and laws. You’ll never have the same sense of belonging as a native inhabitant who was born and raised on the soil, and the same would be true if the situation were reversed. You’ll always be half of what you were and half of what you are. But there’s no reason why that duality can’t fuse to form a cohesive whole. The life of an immigrant isn’t a fractured life but a multifaceted one. You don’t leave parts of yourself behind but add new dimensions to who you already are. All I ask is that you respect my country as much as your own by respecting our laws, ideals, history, traditions, and culture. If America isn’t a nation by race than what is it but a nation of ideals—people of all backgrounds, countries, cultures, nationalities and races coming together to share a common creed? Without that creed, there can be no nationality, no unity, and no means by which we can live together peaceably.
Why would anyone want to live in a country that’s just a hodgepodge—or worse, an indistinguishable blend—of every other existing culture? Traditionally, people have flocked to America because it offered something different—perhaps better—than their own country. If the US didn’t have it’s own unique culture, despite its history of immigration, as some claim, it wouldn’t resemble America, and there’d be no point in immigrating here. So, if you don’t respect America enough to enter her legally—if you won’t obey our laws and you can’t embrace our values—if our morals or politics offend you—if you have a choice, please think very carefully about whether you love your own country too much to adapt to a new culture or if the inevitable hardships are worth knowing that your future generations will be just as American as the next native. To me, that’s the American Dream—that people the world over can become part of a shared, unifying philosophy based on values, character, and tradition rather than on color or class. If that’s not what you envision for your life—if you don’t genuinely want to belong here, but merely want to recreate your old culture in a land of greater opportunity, without due respect for the host culture that’s providing those opportunities—I hope you’ll be able to realize your dream somewhere else.