Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Real NYC #33 - The Statue of Liberty

I am not one who gets verklempt at “patriotic” landmarks. I have a lot of issues with the history of this country, and I am not very quick to accept the argument that says, “Well, you have to understand the times.” That being said, there are two monuments that I find moving. One is The Lincoln Memorial. The other is the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty was designed by Frederic Bartholdi and built by Gustav Eiffel. It was designed in the late 1860’s as a tribute by the French to the Union winning the Civil War and the approaching centennial of the founding of the United States.

My feelings about the statue in the bay are not blind patriotism. they have a lot more to do with what that statue meant to immigrants coming here for so many years. I can only imagine what my grandparents thought when they entered the harbor and saw her. Having grown up under the thumb of various European royalties with largely anti-Semitic leanings, coming to the United States must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. The reality they faced was something different. They came here and had to fight to actually have any of the liberties that we take for granted today.  My grandparents came here as workers. They were part of the struggle to provide better lives for themselves and their children.


My grandparents were part of that poor immigrant population that has always come to the United States to find a better life. Then, as today immigrants faced racism, and a country that denigrated them, the work they did and the lives they led. There is a lot of nostalgia about how great things were. But the reality was very different. One of my grandmothers came here at age 14. Her brothers lied about her age, saying that she was 16, so that she could work in a sweat shop. This was done because they could not afford to keep her without her contribution. This situation still is true today. Many of my students, all recent immigrants to the United States, were going to high school full time and working 20, 30 sometimes 40 hours/week to help their families pay the bills, or just pay their own way.

File:Labor-Strikes-Minneapolis, Minnesota-police battle with striking truck drivers - NARA - 196524.tif
By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My grandparents and my parents spent their lives fighting to improve their lives and the lives of others. They were organizers, of garment workers, of teachers, of parents. They fought for the 8 hour day, for civil rights, for worker’s rights. They fought against racism and for a system that would truly provide a decent life for everyone. They fought for what immigrants believed the Statue of Liberty promised. A view of society that the United States has never really lived up to.

To me, the statue represents is an ideal, not a promise. Thomas Jefferson said “The only freedoms you have are the ones you are willing to fight and die for.” This was certainly true for the poor and working class in this country. It is even more true today. Those rights and “freedoms” that workers won are under attack. Union membership is falling. Racists feel empowered to be more vocal than at any time during the past 40 years. Immigrants are vilified and attack for their language, religion or the color of their skin


So I present The Statue of Liberty today to say that we need to be ready fight as our grandparents and parents did, because this country is heading towards a very dark time. And of the two candidates who are most likely to become the next president, one believes that the status quo is basically okay, and the other is a fascist.      


1 comment:

  1. I never connected our current times (although I agree they are gloomy and ominous) to the early 1900s. An interesting connection worth pondering. How proud you should be to come from such activist roots.