Lady Liberty – Who Are You?

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When you think of the Statue of Liberty, what is your first thought? The Statue of Liberty was conceived by a political activist in France who wanted to set an example to his country of American democracy. Edouard de Laboulaye was inspired by the United States Constitution, the fact that America held itself together through its civil war, and that it passed the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery and proving that justice and liberty for all was possible). He created a plan to partner with the United States to build a colossal statue as a way to strengthen the cause for democracy in France. Initially the Statue of Liberty was not as much about America, as it was about France.

The architect that designed the statue, Auguste Bartholdi, first called his work, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” He actually had designed a similarly colossal statue to stand tall at the opening of the Suez Canal, which he also wanted to represent freedom. His design was not accepted for the Suez Canal. Lucky for America, we got his design efforts in an improved version. Between Laboulaye and Bartholdi, they worked out a way to get France to pay for their idea of the statue and the United States to pay for the pedestal.

Bartholdi needed to hire an engineer to help him design how the structure would stand. When his first engineer unexpectedly died, Bartholdi reached out to another engineer named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Only after Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel oversaw the completion of the statue, did he return to France. He then designed one of the most famous structures in the world.

The United States was having a hard time finding funds to build the pedestal for the statue. Thankfully, Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper magnate, ran an ad in his newspaper, the New York World, asking for donations from the American public. He made a plea saying that the statue was “not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America” (Pulitzer). With this plea Pulitzer raised the necessary funds and in thanks, he published the names of each person who made a contribution, no matter the amount.

Other fundraising efforts were also taking place in the United States. One of these was a poetry competition. Emma Lazarus (inspired by her Sephardic Jewish descent) authored the winning poem, which she called The New Colossus. She wrote from the perspective of foreigners entering into New York’s harbor saying, “give me your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” (Lazarus). Her poem became a beacon to the “wretched refuse of teeming shores…” and stood for an America with open arms (Lazarus). It was published in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and the New York Times and (really, only after her death) expanded the symbols of the Statue of Liberty to represent immigration and opportunity, in addition to liberty – symbols that all remain today. Sixteen years after her death, one of her close friends persuaded officials to inscribe her poem on the statue’s pedestal.

My first thoughts on this magnificent lady focus on freedom and new opportunities for foreign born people. Most of our country’s symbolic statues depict our forefathers – but lady liberty represents something more than the people that founded our country, helped preserve our country, and fought for our country. As she holds her torch up high, she expresses all of our ideals, our discourse and debate, our struggles to overcome our differences and our efforts to preserve our great nation. She represents America.

Aren’t We All Immigrants?

Except for the people that had lived in the United States for centuries ahead of the European explorers, aren’t we all immigrants? Immigration was the main reason why America grew in the first place. But, even though our fledgling country needed people in order to survive, from our earliest times, we started a selection process for the groups we thought were the desirables. The Naturalization Act of 1790 established a two year residency requirement to aliens who were “free white persons” of “good moral character.”

I’m writing this blog as a research project for an independent U.S. History seminar class. In this blog, I’m going to explore the many different ways we, in the U.S. have looked at immigration. I’m also going to do some comparing and contrasting to see how other countries and regions have handled immigration.

From my research, one of the threads I saw was the idea that Northern Europeans in our historical pecking order, always seemed to come out on top. In fact, most of our 19th and 20th century polices favored protections for immigrants from Northern Europe. Lucky for me (though throwing in a little mix) I’d get the benefit of this preference. But this is only because my parents follow what was pretty much the norm of assimilation for certain immigrant groups. My mother is a second generation Greek American. All of her grandparents came from Greece.

Greek people in the early part of the 20th century were not considered to be as desirable as people from Northern Europe and our immigration policies reflected our resistance towards Greeks (through quotas that the United States goverment established). What the Greeks had going for them, though, similar to other immigrant populations from areas outside Northern Europe (mainly Southern and Eastern Europe) was their ability to intermarry. In the early part of the 20th century, immigrant groups did not intermarry. By mid-century only a minority of the descendants of Southern and Eastern Europe were not of mixed parents. My parents follow this trajectory. My father’s family came to the United States many decades ahead of my mother’s family from Greece.My parents met in college, and by their marriage, added to the percentage of early 20th century immigrants assimilating into America’s melting pot.

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My Dad’s Family

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My Mom’s Family

Here’s a tough question. Do we in the United States, even now, still cling to a notion that certain groups of people are more desirable? We’ve had some booming immigration periods. Taking from the U.S. census bureau, during the first two decades of the 20th century, the percent of foreign born people to the overall U.S. population reached its peak of 14.7 percent. This percentage went down mid-century due to restrictive immigration maneuvering and since the 1960’s has now steadily climbed. From our latest census data taken in 2010, foreign born people now make up 12.9% of total U.S. population. What’s interesting is the change in where immigrants are coming from. In the 1960’s, 75% of foreign born immigrants came from Europe. In 2010, only 12% of foreign born immigrants come from Europe. Currently, the two largest immigrant populations come from Latin America with 53% and Asia with 28%. More will come discussing these immigration patterns. For now, a thought to raise is whether we still cling to immigration policies that have undercurrents of preferential treatment for certain ancestries. One might argue that we don’t because at present, people from Asia are not excluded from our immigration policies. In the late 1800’s into the 1900’s, however, people from Asia were prohibited from entering America.

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Two central themes that I’ll explore as I write these blogs will focus on our supposed economic pragmatism and the preferential treatment we applied to different immigrant groups (known in the earlier 20th century as Eugenics) and how these two themes have shaped our immigration policies over the past decades.