Lady Liberty is weeping.
That’s one sentence that I’ve been saying a lot lately and even more so as we near the Fourth of July holiday this week. The festive decorations have lined store shelves for weeks, where streamers and banners have proclaimed “Happy Fourth of July” in huge lettering. You can’t miss it even if you tried. But “happy"? Really?
The truth is, these days, I cringe every time I see the word “happy” juxtaposed with the Fourth of July. I cringe because in 2019, we can't look at things like the American flag or the Statue of Liberty and smile and beam with pride. At least, I can't.
This year, people all across the United States will be celebrating the birth of this country. They'll eat hot dogs and maybe even sing some patriotic tunes. Fireworks will light up the sky at dusk in a red, white and blue splendor. They'll even wave the flag and speak of what it represents.
It's a time to celebrate and be thankful, for sure, but also a time to reflect. Because now more than ever, we're reminded that not everyone is free. We see the headlines and images every day. They show us the thousands of people being held in "detention centers" at the border. Parents and children. Children being separated from their parents. Children locked in cages, going without baths, toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.
We can’t escape those headlines, and we probably shouldn’t. We need to see the photos and read the stories because it’s not progressive or right to pretend that what’s happening at the border isn’t real.
Because the people crossing at the border? We need to take a long, hard look at them and see them for who they really are. They're not drug dealers and criminals. They're people seeking a better life. They're parents trying to keep their children safe. That could be me and that could be you; it could be any one of us. And as history has shown, it has been us. We've all been those immigrants in the course of our nation's history. From the colonists escaping British tyranny to those coming through Ellis Island in search of a better life, we can't sit here and act like we're somehow superior to those currently crossing the border.
Take my great-grandparents, for example, who came through Ellis Island. They weren't dangerous people who came here to take our jobs and get a free ride in life. No, they came as Swedish immigrants. They didn't speak English, knew no one and didn't have any jobs lined up. I can't imagine how scared they were at the beginning. But we welcomed them. We didn't turn them away or separate the children from their parents for months on end. My great-grandparents, along with thousands of others who got their first hopeful glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as they first set foot on Ellis Island, went on to settle in Chicago and build a full life for themselves and their four sons.
How has this country forgotten that?
Our very own Statue of Liberty says: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." It doesn’t continue: "...but families will be separated at the border.”
So, yes, Lady Liberty is weeping this year. And we should be too. So this year, to "celebrate" the Fourth of July, I'll be donating to organizations that are fighting to end family separation. It’s something I can do. It’s my way of saying to families at the border, “Yes, I see you and I’m with you.”
We as Americans are not any different than those crossing the border and it's important that we remember that as we celebrate things like freedom and the ideals of this country. On the Fourth of July and every day. Immigrants don’t break this country; they make this country. They make it the beautiful melting pot that it is – rich in culture.
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