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!"
- Emma Lazarus “The New Colossus”
I can’t help but wonder when watching all these folks yell and scream at busloads of children and mothers, how many of them might be able to trace their history back through Ellis Island. Possibly to a teenager or even a child with only a name and address pinned to their coat, escaping poverty and oppression, sent on a ship by their family knowing well that they’d never see them again. Or maybe their immigration story starts before then, as a Potato Famine escapee fleeing poverty and death. Could they go as far back as the original settlers who came here seeking refuge from religious persecution? We’re a “nation of immigrants” as they day, but that is apparently lost on some people trying to close the door on anyone trying to come in behind them.
But perhaps I’m oversimplifying. These folks who want to “send them home” didn’t immigrate here. They were born here. And most likely their parents, grandparents, and their great-grandparents were too. So I guess for all intents and purposes they’re not immigrants anymore, and as such have no sympathy for any new folks (who don’t look like them, by the way) trying to find a life beyond poverty and violence in their native land.
I guess that’s the luxury we have, already being in the bubble. We can watch footage on our HD TVs, sipping from our bottled water, writing little opinion pieces on high end tablets in the peace of our back decks, and not have to care about the world these folks are trying to escape. How many generations after the original immigrants of my family will there be before we forget why we got here in the first place? Will I remember to teach my kids about how their grandmother left her country months before Martial Law took over the land? How she left her family and went to the US on her own with no one waiting for her when she got there? How about my friend whose two year journey to the States from Vietnam brought them through South America?
When my children’s grandchildren hear these stories, with they be watered down so much that their impact becomes lost? Will that generation be so distant from that fist immigrant that the can’t sympathize with it anymore? Will they be so removed that they start slamming the door behind them too?