“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.” With these words, the poet Emma Lazarus summarizes the meaning of the green lady that sits in a harbor not too far from my desk.
I remember learning about the great statue in grade school. The idea that we were a melting pot of people intrigued me, and the subsequent journeys into our heritage that this brought about was always interesting. I figured out the percentages. I was a German/English/Scots-Irish mutt of sorts, with some confusion over my religious heritage (not all of my history is WASPish). My friends had more interesting backgrounds, causing me to grab the globe in search of their ancestry.
Something changed, however. I honestly don’t think our nation would put the same poem in the same place at this point in our history. Or, if we did, it would be with the addendum: “as long as they look like us”. I realize the melting-pot metaphor no longer works, we’re not nearly as heterogeneous as we were when Liberty was raised, but our greatness as a nation is dependent upon all being melted together, is it?
The debate over Immigration reform has some resonance with the debate on race. If we were to draw a Venn-diagram, the overlapping portion could well be labeled fear. So much of our suppositions about immigrants (documented and otherwise) are not found in fact, but rather, come from either the unknown… or the known. The latter is the most concerning. It is the narcissistic tendency to make our own experience the only truth that exists.
“I knew a girl from Pakistan once and she was lazy”. Therefore, we generalize our own experience. “All girls from Pakistan are lazy” is the conclusion we come to.
The problem is, my experience of girls from Pakistan is different than yours. Where is the truth?
When it comes to understanding a large number of experiences (and not just our own) it helps to turn to the statistics. (And yes, I’m familiar with Mark Twain, statistics, and damn lies). Even though numbers can be tweaked and interpreted, they do offer something to hold on to in the realm of pure experience and opinion. Consensus amongst Economists is leaning heavily towards the understanding that immigration HELPS the American economy (more people buy more things…. meaning we need to make more things… meaning more jobs, etc.). Does this negate your experience? No. It simply means your experience is not universal.
As the church, our responsibility is to remember that God’s children come in different colors and speak different languages. All are welcome at the Table. Jesus’ family knew what it was like to flee persecution to another land…. and one of the great acts that we can do is to welcome the stranger in our midst.
The above quote by Emma Lazarus is at the end of her poem. We rarely hear the beginning which sets the context. Not only do we open our arms wide to those who come broken and with nothing, we do so as an act of defiance. We say, as we open our arms, we ARE different. If I were ever to move towards nationalism, it would be on this point. Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp! These huddled masses, and who we are with them in our midst defines our very spirit as a nation. We are greater than the sum of all of these.
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!”