As a native New Yorker, it is a rare day when you find yourself on a sunset cruise along the Hudson to Lady Liberty. We New Yorkers are more likely atop a rooftop bar sipping cocktails than jammed with the tourists. While we are more cynical and blasé than the average American, there is something special about Lady Liberty that appeals to every New Yorker. Why? We are a city of immigrants.
The last time I visited the Statue of Liberty was with my mother and father during the 80's. I remember how tightly my dad held me as we rode the Circle Line toward the what was formerly called Bedloe Island. Lady Liberty symbolized their hopes in America: to prove their worth in a new country and to be a part of the American dream.
To my parents, the American Dream was a participatory dream. It wasn't about getting their piece of the American dream. They believed as naturalized citizens they each had a personal role in making the US a more perfect union. They were not naive in thinking that it would be easy. They endured years of racist haranguing and discriminatory behavior on the streets of New York. But that didn't stop them from building a community with our German, Italian and Polish neighbors. My mother was famous for introducing Taiwanese food and culture to our neighborhood block parties. My father tutored our neighbor's kids in math and science. They did their part in building the American dream not just for themselves but for the community at large.
For some of you, you might not realize that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. The Statue of Liberty is the brainchild of Eduard Rene de Laboulaye, the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society and sculptor Frederic Bartholdi. With the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War, Laboulaye hoped that calling attention to the progress toward democracy in the US would inspire greater efforts at home in France. After years of delays, Lady Liberty was pre-assembled in France and then shipped over Ellis Island for final assembly. Built atop what was Fort Wood, the fortifications comprised of an 11 point start became the pedestal for which Lady Liberty. It took nearly a decade to complete the Statue of Liberty from the time from concept to dedication. Oriented to faces south-east, she greets generations of immigrants sailing into New York harbor.
I still remember the first time I read Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus." I wanted to reach out and trace the words of her sonnet with my fingers.
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!"
Even though I live abroad today, my parent's participatory vision of the American Dream is ingrained in me. Technology gives us the means to be engaged meaningfully at home not just at the national level but local level as well. My travels remind me of the dangers which we face from those who seek to make the American dream an exclusive one. The freedoms we have in the United States are so precious that it must be shared with all who seek refuge.
As a strategic consultant, I manage chaos for a living. So travel is easy for me. Heh. I travel to understand people and culture more deeply than a newspaper or tv show could ever tell me. I break bread to build bridges across political and social boundaries. Travel inspires me, teaches me and humbles me such that I appreciate my part of the world more deeply.