A Colossus Weeps
She’s been doing it for a very long time, perhaps since she first strode onto a misnamed Isle on our treacherous shores.
A decade or so ago I wrote a commentary on the demise of Emma Lazarus’ dream as reflected in her poem “The New Colossus”. I wondered then whether approaching a fork in our nation’s road we’d rejected our past or whether, as a People, we’d always been hypocrites. I wondered at whether we’d ever become a nation given the heterogeneous nature of our composition. I’ve been more and more sensitive to the issue as bipartisan xenophobia has become our hallmark and as I started a new segment of my life abroad.
Again I wonder if the beautiful and noble words of Emma’s poem were ever more than therapeutic propaganda.
Listen to their fading echo:
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!”
Of course, we were then and are now the same People who so easily committed genocide against those from whom we stole those shores and who so brazenly defamed them in our nascent cultural adventures. The examples we set with our pompous declamations of American Excellence, Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine have resonated across the globe among others who seek to appropriate that which is not theirs, the Japanese and Germans in the Second World War, Israel and Isis today, who knows whom tomorrow.
Today, in orgies of hypocritical ecstasy, some among us have found our long lost outrage and voices but apparently only so long as those we oppose politically exercise political authority, the same conduct is just fine when engaged in by our own side.
Perhaps, to reflect our true nature, the Statue of Liberty ought to be recast as a shining tribute to hypocrisy and inhumanity and hatred and fear, a two faced tribute to who we unfortunately really seem to be. Or perhaps, for a while at least, it ought to be replaced by giant multifaceted mirrors showing us just who we are. Perhaps that would be a start towards converting us into the People we ought to become but have never been.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved