"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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
When I was 9, my whole family took a vacation. To New York City. In the middle of July. Hailing from the dry desert air of Reno, Nevada, the humidity struck me violently at first making it hard to breathe. Amongst the chaotic traffic, beckoning lights, I was both overwhelmed and intoxicated with New York as I'm sure most young kids are when they see the city blinking to life for the first time. In those initial moments, as I peered out the taxi window en route from JFK, New York held nothing but promise and hope and dreams. A wild dance of opportunity. Open to all who can keep up.
The trip itself was, admittedly, routine in the sense that we checked off every major landmark we could. The Empire State Building, The Natural History Museum, Times Square (Mom and Dad, you were brave for trying that one!). But what has stayed with me and what stands out right now given the recent turn of events since President Drumpf's inauguration (and last weekend's executive order), is our visit to the Statue of Liberty.
Again, my parents got kind of aggressive here (bless their hearts) and thought it would be a good idea to take two young children up all the stairs to Lady Liberty's crown. In short, it took us most of the day, waiting in line after line, inching forward a few steps at a time, in a completely AC-less stairwell. Again, need I remind you. It's July. In New York City. And I'm 9. And my sister is 8.
Several hours, and buckets of sweat later, we made it. And even as a 9 year old, I couldn't help but appreciate the view. Peering out in between the slots of her crown, you can see New York calling you and stretching out to one side and the vast Atlantic Ocean on the other side. It's a small room -- probably only accommodating no more than 20 people at a time -- and they usher you in pretty quickly, urging you to keep moving from window to window. And while the height took my breath away that day, I remember being completely blown away by something else -- just how many different languages were being spoken in that small room alone. Spanish. Mandarin. Hindi. English. All thrown together, mixing and intertwining with one another -- where one ended, it was hard to decipher where the next picked up.
And even as a 9 year old, something about that struck me as really special. That all of us, regardless of our language and origin, religion and creed, could appreciate a symbol like The Statue of Liberty together. A beacon of hope and light, offering refuge to those who seek it. The safe haven welcoming you to America, with open arms.
I'll pause here and offer a disclaimer: perhaps this is an overly sentimental way of getting to my point (and if it is, I'm sorry, I'm just naturally an overly sentimental person at times), but after this past weekend, I would feel amiss not saying something in the midst of what I fear is well, fear.
We are a country created and built by immigrants -- they are the very fiber that makes this nation what it is: a shining opportunity at freedom, a fresh start at a dream. And for those who are willing to work hard for it, it's a chance at a new life. That's what I believe this country stands for and that's what I believe we need to fight for still.
Now, I'll offer another disclaimer here, I will fully recognize it's not my place to spout out facts (and trust me, I have many browser tabs open to different news outlets, left and right leaning, including, yes, Breitbart), because I don't want this to become a source war, which is sadly, the state that we're in. A state where "fake news" has become the all-too convenient scapegoat in arguments. What I do know and hold to be true is this: when widespread and poorly executed mandates like this are implemented, seemingly mass targeting those based on religion (and not even necessarily the countries where extremists hail from), then we've failed ourselves as a country and what we stand for. It's shortsighted leadership that exploits nothing else than fear mongering itself. And that's not an America I recognize.
So what to do about it? In my first post regarding the election results here, I, like many others, urged for tolerance, compassion, understanding and above all, action. I think they all still hold true, now more so than ever. But I'll take it one step further here. I promise, for every politically-driven article I post on Facebook (and trust me, I post a lot), I'll follow it with action of some sort. Donating to ACLU. Participating in protests. Volunteering my time to refugee aid programs. But starting first with calling senators. And if their voicemail inboxes are full, I'll keep calling.
Because if we're not careful, that lamp beside the golden door may soon go out. And that's a day I surely don't want to see.