I am a second generation American. Grandson to Italians who can trace their communion with the Bishop of Rome back more than 600 years and whose paternal ancestry can be traced back in time on Erin to the times of Niall of the Nine Hostages and the beginnings on the Emerald Isle. I have been fortunate to have traveled the world and understand the great blessings provided to citizens of this great nation.
I was witness this past Independence Day holiday weekend to the naturalization of 1,000 new fellow citizens who have come to America seeking the same thing my grandparents did – a better life. It was awesome in the true definition of the word. Standing there with my cameras in hand recording the excitement, the thrill, the drama of these people renouncing their native countries – their homelands to adopt America as their own and we as theirs.
The idea of America is far stronger than anyone can imagine who has not traveled the world and seen the light that shines from afar and draws people from all ages, races and nations to our shores. It was a great honor to stand witness to the evens of July 3, 2009 at that Magic Kingdom and welcome these new, fellow citizens to their chosen home.
The New Colossus
Inscribed in the base of the statue that my grandparents saw as they sailed into New York Harbor are inscribed these words:
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!”
The poem, by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883, as a donation to raise money for the pedestal for this Statue of Liberty; a gift from the people of France to honor America’s centennial in 1886. Officially titled, Liberty Enlightening the World (en Francais La liberté éclairant le monde) the Statue of Liberty is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable icon of the United States of America.
The Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the statue. However, it was Lazarus’s poem that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants.
John T. Cunningham
Wrapping it up
To be part of such a ceremony is one that I will not forget. I cannot imagine that my ancestors could conceive that I would be standing there to welcome so many people into the nation that they had worked so hard to reach. The photographs and video I recorded that day can only show what happened, the meaning lies beneath and must be experienced to be truly understood.
The events of this day remind me of another poet, my favorite in fact – Robert Frost and his poem The Gift Outright.
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people.
She was ours In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.