As America struggles with itself over whether to allow others to take up residency in our land - and as Donald Trump brays his religious bigotry across the landscape - I thought it might be a good time to revisit three poetry selections that filled this space on April 26th, 2010. In fact, one of the poems, the wonderful "Running to America" by Luis Rodriguez, has appeared in this blog on two previous occasions.
"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus is the verse inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, the emblem of America that greeted new arrivals to our shores as they sailed into New York Harbor. The simple lines of this poem were then, and should be now, what America is all about.
The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus
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!"
"Push and Pull" by John Myer is a bit more contemporary and talks about the slow process of assimilation. It, too, is relevant to our times.
Push and Pull
by John Myers
Like many who came before
From distant corners of the globe
Pushed from home
Hunger, Poverty, War
The United States
Land of Dreams
Pulling those seeking a better life
Offering hope and optimism
To the downtrodden, the desperate
They've come to this New World
For several hundred years now
In crashing waves from different places at different times
Only to face new struggles
In a new land
"They're taking our jobs."
"They're stealing our money."
"They don't want to speak English."
"Send them all back to where they came from."
They've all taken turns bearing the brunt
Eventually each group melds into the giant pot
Becoming a part of a new America
Time and time again
And the wave we have crashing over our shores now
The third poem, "Running to America" by Luis Rodriguez, paints a very touching picture of immigrants trying to enter the United States on foot by racing across the arid southwest. The Mexicans trying to make it into this land of freedom are also being demonized by Mr. Trump and people like him.
Running to America
by Luis Rodriguez
They are night shadows violating borders,
fingers curled through chain-link fences,
hiding from infra-red eyes, dodging 30-30 bullets.
They leave familiar smells, warmth and sounds
as ancient as the trampled stones.
Running to America.
There is a woman in her finest border-crossing wear:
A purple blouse from an older sister,
a pair of worn shoes from a church bazaar,
a tattered coat from a former lover.
There is a child dressed in black,
fear sparkling from dark Indian eyes,
clinging to a headless Barbie doll.
And the men, some hardened, quiet,
others young and loud - you see something
like this in prisons. Soon they will cross
on their bellies, kissing the black earth,
then run to America.
Strange Voices whisper behind garbage cans,
beneath freeway passes, next to broken bottles.
The spatter of words, textured and multi-colored,
They must run to America.
Their skin, color of earth, is a brand
for all the great ranchers, for the killing floors
on Soto Street and as slaughter
for the garment row. Still they come:
A hungry people have no country.
Their tears are the grease of the bobbing machines
that rip into cloth
that make clothes
that keep you warm.
They have endured the sun's stranglehold,
el cortito, foundry heats and dark caves
of mines swallowing men.
Still they come, wandering bravely
through the thickness of this strange land's
Their cries are singed with the fires of hope.
Their babies are born with a lion
in their hearts.
Who can confine them?
Who can tell them
which lines never to cross?
For the green rivers, for their looted gold,
escaping the blood of a land
that threatens to drown them,
they have come,
running to America.
America remains a great nation despite the wave of bigotry and inflamed rhetoric currently raging across the land. We are, with limited exceptions, a people descended of immigrants, made strong by the cross-pollination of many cultures, and made exceptional by our acceptance of others - regardless of their backgrounds, creeds, or faiths. We would do well not to forget that.