Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, no you didn't say that about Lady Liberty!

There are a select number of people I enjoy discussing politics with—and you probably know who you are if you are one of them. There are far more people I don't enjoy discussing politics with, which is why more often than not I keep my opinions to myself. You'd be surprised at how often I hold my tongue. I learned to do that pretty quickly after moving to Utah when I was in my teens because I seem to be a somewhat original thinker for the area and if there's anything the majority doesn't like it's the minority.

To avoid conflict—and, more importantly, name-calling and far-flung accusations of my sanity and/or patriotism and/or testimony—I tend to bridle my tongue. Often.

Sometimes, though, I do feel justified in commenting politically and did so today.

The conversation took place on Facebook, which is an interesting but rather inadequate forum. One of my friends posted a little "forward" in their status.

Interesting...If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U.S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 yrs...No wonder we are a country in debt. Re-post if you agree!
There is so much in this that I don't agree with that it's not even funny. Needless to say, I didn't repost.

Others did, though, thanking the poster for this wonderful way of saying what they feel deep down in their hearts but just couldn't ever find the wording. Then one friend said, "Hmm. Not sure that North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran are appropriate comparisons to the United States. Just a thought."

I piped in, saying that agreed with what that friend had said and offered some words of a poem that came to mind. You might recognize them:
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 original friend then offered some other examples, all of which were still "third-world" countries, saying that "every other country has stiff policies and requirements to live in their country..." As if the United States doesn't have stiff policies regarding immigration (I believe it may in fact be our stiff policies that encourage illegal immigration).

A few comments down, this came up:
No disrespect, but it seems to me that the quoting of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" as an implied statement of original or traditional American values is an example of revisionist history. The Statue of Liberty was originally not at all related to the immigrant, but to the celebration of Republicanism. Its placement at Ellis Island, where new immigrants could see it as they landed in New York, created the association celebrated by Lazarus. The poem was attached to the statue 17 years after it was dedicated. Nowhere in the history of the statue, of Ellis Island, or even in the poem have I seen even a hint that illegal immigration would be tolerated back then.
The very fact that this speaker began their statement by saying "No disrespect" was a tip-off that it was indeed meant to be disrespectful. And then the name calling—not direct, but implied. Or perhaps I'm reading too deep into this. What I felt the commenter was trying to say was "No disrespect, but you're embracing revisionist history. You are a revisionist, rewriting history to back up your flimsy argument."

I'm actually not completely foreign to the story behind the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus' poem was written in 1883 for the statue of Liberty and in it Lazarus expresses sorrow for the condition immigrants to the United States were living in and her hope that the United States could help those struggling throughout the world. It was read at an exhibition/auction to raise money to construct a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty to rest upon. The pedestal was completed in 1886, the statue being reconstructed and dedicated that same year, but Lazarus' poem lay forgotten.

And so it wasn't until 1903 that the poem was finally placed on the pedestal.

And while it is true that the statue was not originally "conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, 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."

Whatever Lady Liberty was supposed to represent is irrelevant because she now represents hope.

But I'm one of those crazy revisionist-types. Clearly, the Statue of Liberty was supposed to represent Republicanism...though I'm not sure that that word has held its meaning through the centuries, either.

No matter, my friend is unconcerned with "The Last Colossus" because that's the past and we can dredge up a lot of stuff from the past that is now irrelevant (like the Pledge of Allegiance—which, says my friend, we can't even recite in school anymore). This friend prefers to focus on the present and what's happening now.

I'd actually like to take a minute to talk about the past.

First of all the Pledge of Allegiance, which I'm pretty sure is being recited in schools today because all of my cub scouts magically know it. Even the new ones. Now, they either learned it at school or at home if they already came to me knowing it and if I were a betting woman I'd be willing to bet that it's not being recited at home. Or maybe I'm just ultra-unpatriotic because I know I don't have my children recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.

The Pledge of Allegiance was originally written in 1892—after "The Last Colossus" was written, mind you—and wasn't formally adopted by congress until 1942, a full fifty years after it was written (and 165 years after the stars and stripes became our flag). The Pledge was changed multiple times before we settled on the version we recite now. The big to-do about the Pledge are the words "under God," which were only added in 1954.

Speaking of stars and stripes, let's discuss the national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key wrote the words in 1814 after the Battle of Fort McHenry during the war of 1812 (which didn't end until 1814). The words were fresh and emotional for him, after having watched our victory. As I understand it, the victory was rather a close call. The song wasn't recognized for "official use" by the Navy until 1889. The president recognized it for official use in 1916 but it wasn't selected as the national anthem until 1931—a clear 119 years after it was written and 28 years after "The Last Colossus" was placed on the Statue of Liberty.

Before The Star-Spangled Banner became the national anthem "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" or "Hail, Columbia" were alternately accepted as the national anthems of the United States. I've never heard Hail, Columbia but actually prefer My Country, 'Tis of Thee, but I'm a revisionist so my ideas are moot.

Regardless, if we use the same logic, then The Star-Spangled Banner was not really meant to be the national anthem and "under God" was not actually meant to be in the Pledge of Allegiance. Or perhaps the Pledge of Allegiance wasn't meant to be written at all.

However, with my revisionist eyes, I see that these things have become representations of what the United States are, regardless of their original intentions. To think that the idea of the Statue of Liberty representing freedom and hope to people all over the world is...wrong...seems like false advertising to me. I grew up outside of the United States believing that this is what the Statue of Liberty represented. Thousands (millions?) of people have passed by it on their way to the United States, in search for a better life, thinking that is what it represents.

I cannot have that idea sullied by anyone telling me that is not what it represents.

It breaks my heart because that is what The United States of America is supposed to represent, isn't it? Freedom and hope.

Well, the conversation took a turn for the worse at the end when Mexico was dragged into the picture. Apparently they don't show citizens of the United States the same courtesy that we show citizens of Mexico when they are "illegal aliens." This, the commenter supposed, was a fair and comprable example to the United States. The person posting was apparently a cop and my friend asked him "who 90% of [his] 'clients' [were]" and then asked if he had learned to speak Spanish yet.

First of all, it seems Mexico can be either lenient or strict. Here, for example, is a forum of people discussing how to get out of Mexico with an expired visa. By definition, once your visa expires you are an illegal alien. I've been an illegal alien (several times) in Egypt and, uh, almost got my little sister arrested. Renewing visas is a long and confusing process and things don't always happen on time—it's even more confusing when your visa length is not standard (30 days? 60 days? 90 days? 6 months? One week?).

Egypt always forgave us in the end and it seems Mexico is pretty forgiving, too, judging from these peoples' experiences.

I realize that not even half of the supposed illegal immigrants in the United States are those with expired visas. Still, a large percentage (45%) are. It's easy to overstay your visa. I've done it loads of time—not on purpose, mind you—but I've never been shot or flung in an open-air prison for doing so.

As for suggesting that 90% of the "clients" a police officer in Utah would work with are illegal aliens sounds rather far-fetched to me. Not to mention that it makes my blood boil.

I am almost positive that a large percentage of this police officer's "clients" are natural citizens of the United States. Because not all illegal immigrants are "criminals," other than the fact that they don't have proper documentation to be in the country, and can't afford to break other laws (thereby risking being exposed). Illegal immigrants can hardly risk doing heroic things—like rescuing young children from kidnappers—without exposing themselves. Besides which I know people—people I have respected—who have turned out to be criminals, who weren't illegal citizens.

Recently I started reading The White Man's Burden, and in it William Easterly discusses the idea of a lexicon shift. After WWII, he says,
Verbiage about racial superiority, the tutelage of backward peoples, and people not ready to rule themselves went into the wastebasket. Self-rule and decolonization became universal principles. The West exchanged the old racist coinage for a new currency. "Uncivilized" became "underdeveloped." "Savage peoples" became the "third world." There was a genuine change of heart away from racism and toward respect for equality, but a paternalistic and coercive strain survived (p. 214).
White man has this "thing" about needing to rescue people, about needing to feel superior. Perhaps "illegal immigrant" feels like a "less racist" way of saying "savage" but when I hear people talk about others this way I feel the hatred in their words. I'm excited to read the rest of this book—and lest you right-wingers (any of you still with me?) think it is a left-winger's haven, it's not. Easterly gives flack to both the right, for wanting to "benevolent imperialism to spread Western capitalism and subdue opposition," and the left, for embracing the idea of "a big state-led effort to fight global poverty." Easterly's whole premise seems to be that this is no "big" solution to poverty in the world. But I'm not that far into the book yet so I'll see what it brings.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that illegal immigration isn't perhaps as bad as we think and that, by golly!, the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and hope for oppressed people everywhere.

End of rant.


  1. Wow, Nancy... Don't you dare call your brave, truthful and fearless words: "rant"!
    This is such a great post, "by golly"!!!!

  2. Ugh, for so many reasons. Plus, don't they realize they're comparing apples to oranges? They're comparing people who immigrate illegally *and get caught* to people who immigrate illegally *and don't get caught.* I know there are still differences in the treatment, but I'm just saying. AND if they're going to get all nitpicky, the hikers in Iran were not given eight-year prison sentences for immigrating illegally. They were given eight-year prison sentences because Iran thinks they're spies. Big difference.

    Anyway, I like your blog post.