I've tried to keep this website a political-free zone where my most passionate posts have been about the awfulness of lesbian cinema. But as a trained historian, watching the events of the past few days unfold has produced too many thoughts and too many emotions for me to continue to stand on the ideological sidelines. I care little for political parties. I identify with no particular religion. My only real allegiance is to the Green Bay Packers, and even they've been failing me lately. A lot of thoughts about our current global crisis have been bouncing around in my head lately and perhaps this post is as much about quieting those internal voices that have been shouting louder as of late.
The Statue of Liberty was once the first sight new immigrants to America saw as they neared what they believed to be the country's gilded shores. Those unaccustomed to the beauty of such a statue often broke down in tears at the sight of her torch. European immigrants escaping autocratic regimes wept with joy at the thought of an egalitarian, democratic society; those escaping famines and poverty wept at the thought of riches and an easy life. To all of them, Lady Liberty symbolized a new beginning.
A poem is inscribed on a tablet on the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. Entitled "The New Colossus," it contains the famous words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Most of you are probably familiar with this line. What you may not know, however, is that they were not originally connected to the statue.
The poem, which was written in 1883 as part of the effort to raise money for the statue's pedestal, had been forgotten until it was rediscovered in a Manhattan used-book store. The text was only placed on the pedestal in 1903, and it transformed the statue's meaning. Its author, Emma Lazarus, was an American Jew, born in New York City in 1849. Lazarus' words not only gave new meaning to the Statue of Liberty, it affixed a new ideal to America itself. Liberty and Freedom no longer meant autonomy from the aristocratic British of the American Revolution. They now meant the ability to come to America and to create a new life--one free from religious and ethnic persecution.
But a different generation with different ideas about immigration and aid to religious and political refugees was at the helm nearly forty years later. During the 1930s, on the cusp of the Second World War, the U.S. State Department blocked efforts by Jewish refugees to migrate to the United States. Between 1933 and 1945--the end of World War II--The United States allowed only 132,000 Jewish refugees to enter the country, just 10 percent of the quota allowed by immigration laws. This opposition to Jewish immigration was indicative of widespread anti-Semitism that was not unique only to the Nazi Germany As late as 1939, opinion polls indicated that 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, "Jews are different and should be restricted." In the end, less than 500,000 Jews (out of 6.5 million) survived Nazi-occupation.
As of this writing, more than HALF of America's governors have publicly declared they will not be allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in their states, including the misguided governor of my own state. Now, the legality of these declarations has been questioned, as well as the extent to which states can refuse this aid, but the heart of the matter still stands.
Like the old adage goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
I've turned off the Comments option for this post because, again, I don't want this to become a place where love stories get ugly.