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Mother of Exiles

“Give my your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” ~Statue of Liberty, 28 Oct 1886

In elementary school, I was taught Lady Liberty stood on our shore welcoming immigrants to join the Great Experiment, to enter the country and become us by immersing themselves in the melting pot that defined the USA, the last bastion of freedom in the known world. It was a great story to whisper into impressionable ears. Unfortunately, this story was a fiction, a fantasy, in today’s parlance, an alternative fact.

I believed the melting pot myth for much of my youth, into college, and, I am embarrassed to say, many years beyond. The myth was so ingrained in my psyche, I did not find myself questioning its veracity until well into my forties. I guess this is because I was part of the chosen people, white & Christian, for whom the melting pot fable was closest to reality. I was out of touch with the reality of the Asians, African-Americans, the Jew, the Muslim, the…whoever is not white & Christian.

In a melting pot, the constituent parts blend together to create something uniquely new, a synthesis of all ingredients realizing a new taste sensation.

For much of US history, including the present day, the melting pot has been a fallacy, a concept we use to pat ourselves on the back oblivious to the reality experienced by a significant swath of the population. The Native Americans were pushed into reservations to keep them out of the stew, an action inspiring Hitler in the creation of his concentration camps. African Americans were untouchable slaves (unless you were a horny owner) who first had no class and today are frequently treated as second-class. During WWII, we interred US citizens with Japanese heritage in US concentration camps but not the Germans and Italians despite being at war with those countries. The only viable explanation is racism. We did not want the Asian flavor in our stew.

People were not allowed to melt along racial lines. Whites were required by law to marry only whites. Blacks with Blacks. Asians with Asians. Interracial marriage laws were not excised from the laws of the land until a Supreme Court decision in 1967. In many parts of the country, this is still frowned upon. This is personal for me. My interracial marriage would have been illegal back then. My interracial kids would not have had the opportunities they enjoy today.

Pretty much, those allowed to cross American shores and melt into the collective were those whose skin color was a lighter shade of pale and claimed the Christian faith as their own.

Enough is enough!

It is time for the US to actually adhere to the welcoming inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty or simply tear down the iconic statue and stop giving a false hope to the world. It is better for those wishing to emigrate to the US to be forewarned with the cruel truth that they may be marginalized instead of saddling them with the comfortable delusion they will be accepted with open arms and asked to join in the melting pot.

We should open our arms to the homeless, to the downtrodden, to the refugee. Or admit to ourselves, we are not the last bastion of freedom in the world, admit to ourselves we are a nation of racist Isolationists, admit to ourselves we don’t really care about those suffering in the world. It simply is not right to advertise the American Dream if the dream is actually a nightmare.

Personally, I reside firmly with the spirit of the Mother of Exiles holding the torch, a beacon to those seeking to breathe free. I believe in the spirit of the melting pot dream and hope, one day, this fantasy of my youth becomes reality for the country to which I was born.


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