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20 June 2005

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

On the plaque of the Statue of Liberty is the poem, "The New Colossus" written by Emma Lazarus. The following words from that poem hung proudly framed on the wall of my grandparents' home throughout their lifetime:

"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 above is a memory of Cookie Curci, from her website "Italians 'R' Us"

* * * * * * *

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to its friend the United States of America to honor our Centennial. It rose in New York Harbor from 1884 to 1886.
The Statue was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The structural framework was designed by Gustave Eiffel (who built the Eiffel Tower). The Pedestal was designed by Richard Morris Hunt.

France's military help to the American Rebels in our Revolutionary War made it possible to defeat the British Army and Navy -- the most powerful military force on Earth -- and win our freedom. You can see a smaller "Lady Liberty" (la Dame Liberté) in the River Seine in Paris.

By "The New Colossus," Emma Lazarus was referring to the old Colossus of Rhodes, a lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. "The brazen giant of Greek fame" told the world that Rhodes was mighty, powerful, wealthy, an island to be feared. An earthquake toppled it around 226 BC. Centuries later a Syrian bought the bronze ruins which, legend has it, were hauled away on the backs of 900 camels.

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

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!"

* * * * * * *

A long time ago, I helped a high-school boy write his application essay to Harvard. (If I helped too much, it's too late to throw him out of Harvard now, he's 29.) His mother was impressed with the tip I gave him, to start his essay "in media res," right smack dab in the middle of the most important, dramatic thing of his life.

Meanwhile, she was helping a Cambodian immigrant girl try to get into college, and the Cambodian girl had to write an application essay, too. My friend showed me the girl's essay. It began very much like this:

I lay in a ditch filled with water, in the middle of the dead bodies of dozens of my relatives and my fellow villagers. I pretended I was dead, too. Soldiers with machine guns were walking all around the ditch above me. I could hear them talking, looking for anyone who wasn't dead.

She was about 13 or 14 when she played dead in the ditch. She got into the college. She's about 29 now, too, is married, and has some kids. We've never met, but I always ask my friend how she's doing.

She's my American neighbor. I'm so happy Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge soldiers thought the little girl was dead, and eventually went away, so she could climb out of the ditch filled with her dead parents and brothers and sisters and neighbors, and somehow, her clothes drenched in blood, somehow make it to the United States of America.

I'd bore you with some stories of how my ancestors came to the USA from Russia and Lithuania, from Vilna and Minsk and Pinsk and Bavaria, but that was then. This is now.


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