We’re living in a world where each of us fits the truth into our own box of understanding. In other words, we’ve been lied to so much that we are skeptical of what we hear anew.
Let me give you an example. Today in America, when you hear the word “immigrant” does its image turn into a politically colored label in your mind? If not, then you truly are an American saint. For all the rest of us, the idea of immigrants coming to America has been so roughed over by the tracks of political bulldozers these past few years that it’s just not the same as it was.
Immigration to America at one time meant a second chance to those who decided to abandon relatives and start over in an unfamiliar land. In 1936, at the fiftieth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, President Franklin D. Roosevelt framed it like this: “Perhaps Providence did prepare this American continent to be a place of the second chance.”
“And the Almighty,” he went on, “seems purposefully to have withheld that second chance until the time when men would most need and appreciate liberty.”
What I want to do in the next couple of minutes with you is turn the political boxes upside down and empty out the term “immigrant” and look at it from FDR’s perspective.
In his speech, he described the immigrant. “They were men and women who had the supreme courage to strike out for themselves, to abandon language and relatives, to start at the bottom without influence, without money and without knowledge of life in a very young civilization.”
President Roosevelt highlighted the courage of the immigrant coming here. He recollected the emotion evoked in the hearts of those who upon entering New York harbor gasped at seeing their first glimpse of the Lady’s torch.
He stirred the cause of freedom and peace for which Lady Liberty stood. He upheld the “rich promise” that it represented for all the earth’s people.
Today, the horizon of our border with Mexico, from where almost 30% of today’s immigrants to America come, is not marked by a Statue of Liberty, estatua de la Libertad, but it could be, for liberty has no ethnicity. Nor is there one to greet arrivals from the Orient at our west coast airports, though there should be one there, too.
My wife is an immigrant from Japan. She has worked side by side with me for the past 35 years to make this place our home. She gave birth to five mixed-race but definitely All-American boys. We became prosperous, and she helped us do it; thus, she contributed to America’s prosperity. She loves this land, though continues to speak Japanese, eat Japanese food, and practice her ethnic manners. To me, however, love for this land is the defining factor in being an American.
My mind has no boxes for politicizing human aspiration, nor for ignorance of the love that grows over the years in an immigrant’s heart for America.
Immigration is the second chance that really feels like the first time experiencing freedom and peace as it was meant to be. It is a shared feeling. Every American feels it.
Though President Roosevelt’s words may seem sentimental in contrast to today’s politically boxed frameworks, they still resonate. “We are all bound by hope of a common future,” he said, and because of that hope we built “upon this continent a unity unapproached in any similar area or population in the whole world.” Let’s read that again: We built a “unity unapproached” by any other. We certainly did.
I encourage you to empty the box of skepticism for a minute and rekindle your imagination for the cause of freedom and peace and immigration – yes, all in one breath – by reading Franklin D. Roosevelt’s full speech:
Even if you’ve been here from the beginning, that is you were born here, I think you cherish what freedom and peace can mean to those who were not born here but have transplanted their heart to this land of America. Certainly, the gold leaf torch held high by Lady Liberty glistens in every American’s soul as the eternal second chance that it represents.
Eugene Harnett has raised five children in Eagle River, owns his own business here, and has been involved in local and state affairs since 1988. To reach Eugene, email firstname.lastname@example.org