You’ve probably seen the sad eyes of children, barely tall enough to see over the railing – catching their first glimpse of their new home.
Often, through the fog – their first welcome was the bright electric torch, held high over New York Harbor by Lady Liberty. Emblazoned in her pedestal were the words of poet Emma Lazarus:
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!
Those words have borne welcome – and comfort to generations of new Americans. Whether they arrived by choice, or chance – America welcomed them.
They became doctors, shopkeepers, seamstresses, factory workers, poets, musicians, and politicians. Each of them sought a new dream, in their new home.
Life was not always easy – but they knew that in America, dreams could become real if they worked hard.
I’ll never forget Grandmother Tess.
Fleeing her native Russia during the revolution – she lost her husband soon after they were cleared through Ellis Island.
Settling in a old but tidy brownstone in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn – close to other immigrant families.
Tess spent long days doing intricate lacework and tatting to earn her way in America. It wasn’t much – but she provided for her small family. Often, at the end of a long day – she’d often wander up to the roof and admire the nighttime skyline and give thanks.
As a kid, I remember visiting her one Fourth of July to watch the fireworks from the roof. While ooh’s and ah’s came from the small cluster of immigrant families gathered nearby, she pulled me aside and took my hand – speaking first in Russian she hugged me close and whispered ‘God Bless America‘– as she firmly pressed a silver dollar in my small hand.
Confused, I looked up to see she was crying. Putting her finger to her lips – she hefted me to her tired shoulders for a better view of the brilliant fireworks over the East River.
Her dreams never could have happened in Russia.
But they did in her small apartment in Brooklyn – from there her hopes for a new life took root. And although she was most comfortable speaking Russian – the first words of English she learned to speak were Thank You – Please – and God Bless America.
We must never forget the lessons of millions of immigrants who arrived on our shores, and helped build America – with their dreams and with their backs. They are as much of our heritage as any political partisan or nationalistic zealot.
You see, when politicians say God Bless America – they think only of themselves – and not the millions of immigrants on whose shoulders they stand to celebrate our freedom.