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A Colossal Omission: How "The New Colossus" Forever Changed American Immigration
Courtesy: Shutterstock

A Colossal Omission: How "The New Colossus" Forever Changed American Immigration

Should the Statue of Liberty symbolize U.S. immigration policy? Are we bound by Emma Lazarus' famous words: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses?"

In 1997’s “The Beautician and the Beast,” Fran Drescher plays a beautician who is mistaken for science teacher and is subsequently hired to tutor the children of President Boris Pachenko, leader of the made-up European nation “Slovetzia.”

Drescher’s character quickly finds that teaching in a communist country presents a few challenges, especially as it pertained to history. She is surprised to find that, per the children’s textbooks, Pachenko "in 1991 organized and coordinated Operation Desert Storm."

As soon as she opens her mouth in surprised protest, she is quieted by one of Pachenko’s right hand men - who insinuates that it’s better to let the children continue believing what’s written in the books.

In this fictitious case, history was purposely changed to promote a certain narrative. Slovetzia is, of course, a fake nation, but its factual shenanigans aren’t foreign to our world.

Allow me to pose a question: Is omitting a fact as bad as making one up? What’s more, is allowing that omission to continue on just as bad?


Take the forever immortalized words of American poet Emma Lazarus, for example, engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"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!"

Ask virtually anyone what they believe those words mean, and they’ll more than likely tell you that it’s a beautiful invitation to rescue the world’s hurting and downtrodden.

To so many people, these words serve as a gospel-like mantra that propagates the modern approach to immigration, and most importantly - the “immigration reform” (read: amnesty) that now seems inevitable.

Do they realize that’s not the whole poem? That in fact these five short lines were added to the base of the Statue of Liberty many years after it was commissioned and erected? And do they further realize that the poem in its entirety tells the true story of the statue’s origin - and its true purpose for existence?

Here are the preceding verses of the poem:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips"

Failing to include the entire poem forever changed its meaning and its use - turning it into what many refer to as our nation’s “credo;” a credo that now fuels our current immigration woes.

Without context, it rather makes it sound as though we’ll forever take charge of the world’s problems.

Glenn Beck put it well in his 2010 CPAC speech:

“If you read it like that and you really think it through, what are we? A hospital? Is the Statue of Liberty saying to Europe, ‘Guys, Europe, you’re never gonna make it with all that refuse - send it over to me, we’ll take care of it over here; you’re never going to succeed with all that riff-raff - send it over here.”

Think about it for a moment. What nation in its right mind would broadcast to the world that it will voluntarily take their “wretched refuse” just to do everyone else a favor?


Courtesy: Shutterstock Courtesy: Shutterstock

No, instead Lazarus’ poem - rightly titled “The New Colossus” - was meant to glorify the tribute to liberty that flew in the face of the old guard, represented by the ancient Colossus of Rhodes. The statue at Rhodes was a conquering, imposing figure representative of a deity (Helios). The Statue of Liberty, on the other hand, threw off the chains of totalitarianism and despotism that had so long reigned over the people of Europe.

In effect, the Statue of Liberty (and the words that were later added to its base) represents a solid “take THAT!” to the entire European modus operandi. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” Lazarus writes - in other words, “You stuffed shirts, you and your tyrannical paths have failed. Now give us the people you’ve all but destroyed and just watch what we’ll do with them!”

Lazarus’ poem was meant to memorialize the French creator’s true intention. It did represent the opportunities our shores presented the world, but more importantly, it represented an ideal that had been so foreign to society until a collection of incredibly gifted, courageous men dared to stand up to a king and declare that the rights of man come from God, and God alone.

It was never meant to serve as carte blanche to anyone and everyone who wanted to come. It was never meant to serve as de facto immigration policy.

It was also never meant to serve as a permission to break laws in some kind of Machiavellian means to an end. Think about it: Doesn’t that fly in the face of the very principles in pursuit of which so many flee their ppressive homelands?

Today, as thousands of people cross our border illegally, and as our president considers amnesty, many point to Lazarus’ poem as the basis by which we must judge the situation.

After all, if the poem and the statue mean we must accept anyone and everyone who wishes to come, then our immigration laws are pointless and this debate is moot.

You see, the whole truth and nothing but the truth matters.

If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this:

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi - commissioned to come up with the monument - created La Liberté éclairant le monde (“The Light that Enlightens the World”) to send a specific message. It was a cry to the rest of the globe: “Look! They’re doing something different - And it’s WORKING.” It was meant to symbolize something to be emulated.

It only turned into a symbol of immigration thanks to its association with Lazarus’ poem - which in and of itself was meant to verbalize the ideal behind Bartholdi’s original vision of a new colossus.

Correctly combined (that is, the statue with the WHOLE poem), it becomes a powerful statement, and a true beacon of higher ideals.

Princeton English professor Esther Schor once noted, “the irony is that the statue goes on speaking, even when the tide turns against immigration - even against immigrants themselves, as they adjust to their American lives. You can’t think of the statue without hearing the words Emma Lazarus gave her.”

Ms. Schor, the tide hasn’t “turned” against immigration; rather, we welcome those who wish to come here legally. After all, what is it that the Statue of Liberty holds in one hand as her feet break free from her heavy chains? The law.

Schor is partly right - we can’t think of the statue “without hearing the words Emma Lazarus gave her.”

All of them, that is.

Mary Ramirez is a full time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com - a political commentary blog, and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show. She can be reached at: afuturefree@aol.com; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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