America: home of the free, refuge of nations, hope of the oppressed. A land of nations within a nation; birthed, foraged, and sustained by people unable to call it their first home, but promising to them what no other home could. We are a country of immigrants, whose search for liberty, freedom, and well-being brought them to our shores to settle and start over with new hope for the future. This is my heritage. I am one in 100 million whose family name was first recorded in America at Ellis Island.
My grandfather was ten when he and his mother immigrated. Even at that young age, he could still retell to my father and later to me the story of their arrival. With impeccable detail he could remember the smell of the air when he took his last step out of steerage, the babbling white noise of the Great Hall, and the picture of his father waiting for him and his mother at the “kissing post.” It was riveting.
The part that captured me most was when he first glimpsed the Statue of Liberty. No other monument or national treasure compared to Lady Liberty in the eyes of my grandfather. It was an olive branch of acceptance, hospitality, and belonging to a place not his own. Most often with tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice, he would recite the poem written by Emma Lazarus, inscribed at its base:
The New Colossus
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. “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!”
To my grandfather, to me, to many who have and will come to make America home, we are welcomed. We are welcomed by those who paid our freedoms and those who share them with us. We are welcomed to thrive, express, and succeed in whatever we put our efforts in. We are welcomed to live, to dream, to be who God created us to be. We are the privileged who stand on the freedoms and liberties that sustain our nation. We are blessed in ways that many can only dream of because God has blessed us with America.