"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." — Emma Lazarus, American poet.
On this day in 1885 the Statue of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States, arrived in New York City's harbor.
Originally known as "Liberty Enlightening the World," the statue was proposed by French historian Edouard Laboulaye to commemorate the Franco-American alliance during the American Revolution. Designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the 151-foot statue was the form of a woman with an uplifted arm holding a torch. In February 1877, Congress approved the use of a site on New York Bedloe's Island, which was suggested by Bartholdi. In May 1884, the statue was completed in France, and three months later the Americans laid the cornerstone for its pedestal in New York. On June 19, 1885, the dismantled Statue of Liberty arrived in the New World, enclosed in more than 200 packing cases. Its copper sheets were reassembled, and the last rivet of the monument was fitted on October 28, 1886, during a dedication presided over by U.S. President Grover Cleveland.
On the pedestal was inscribed "The New Colossus," a famous sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus that welcomed immigrants to the United States with the declaration, "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." Six years later, Ellis Island, adjacent to Bedloe's Island, opened as the chief entry station for immigrants to the United States, and for the next 32 years more than 12 million immigrants were welcomed into New York harbor by the sight of "Lady Liberty." In 1924, the Statue of Liberty was made a national monument.
One of my favorite movies is the Godfather, Part II. I enjoy this movie not so much for the Mafia theme, but for the large portion of the film devoted to how Vito Corleone, portrayed by Robert DeNiro. The movie opens with a scene in Sicily of a funeral procession with text over stating; “The godfather was born Vito Andolini, in the town of Corleone in Sicily. In 1901 his father was murdered for an insult to the local Mafia chieftain. His older brother Paolo swore revenge and disappeared into the hills, leaving Vito, the only male heir, to stand with his mother at the funeral. He was nine years old.”
The movie uses flashbacks to brilliantly weave two tales. The main story is the reign of Michael Corleone as the world's most powerful criminal. Now reaping the benefits of legalized gambling in Las Vegas, Michael is an evident billionaire with an iron fist on a world of treachery.
Behind this, Director Francis Ford Coppola spins the tale of the rise of Michael's father, Vito, to the center of the New York mafia. It is these scenes that make the film a work of art. Without spoiling, I will simply say the Robert DeNiro as the young Vito is the best acting performance of all time, a role for which he won a richly deserved Oscar.
It is the flashback tale to young Vito being hushed out of Sicily by family friends after the Mafia chieftain kills his mother in front of him for attempting to slay the local Mafia boss because he not would spare the 9-year old Vito for fear of revenge against him.
The film then shifts to young Vito arriving in New York with a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. It then takes the viewer through the immigration process at Elis Island. It shows the Irish-American immigration agent asking the young boy his name and not getting a response in English the agent looks at the tag around his neck and sees he is from the town of Corleone so he writes his name as Vito Corleone, not Vito Andolini. Young Vito then goes through the health checks and is put in quarantine for 3 months for fear he might have tuberculosis. The film then moves to an adult Vito Corleone, with a young wife and child, trying to survive in the Italian ghetto of New York City.
I believe these scenes of how Vito Corleone arrived in the United States are one of the best depictions of how millions of other legal immigrants arrived on our shores. They came to escape the tyranny of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mafia controlled Sicily and the expulsion programs of Eastern Europe. They were Hungarians, Romanians, Italians, Poles, Germans and Jews. They were wealthy and they were poor. Some came to reunite with family members who had immigrated ahead of them. Many had sponsors who would vouch for them. But they all had one thing in common and that was to realize the dream of freedom and opportunity offered by the United States of America.
In 1911 my maternal grandparents, Joseph and Rose Major, arrived with their one-year old son Joseph at Elis Island. They no doubt went through the same process as Vito Corleone. They went through a name changing process no doubt due to the immigration agent seeing the identification tag stating they were Hungarian (Magyar) and wrote “Major” as their family name. They went through the same medical examination and eventually were met by their sponsor and traveled to Cleveland, Ohio where they resided uitk the day they died.
They had two more children, Irene and Elizabeth, who were born in the United States and were citizens by birth. Their son Joseph became a naturalized citizen and served with distinction in Patton’s 4th Armor Division WWII. Joe Sr. and Rose never became naturalized citizens.
Joe and Rose both worked, Joe as a landscaper at a golf course and Rose as a housekeeper. They did not learn English well, but Joe Jr., Irene and Elizabeth were fluent in English and Hungarian. They never protested against the United States in the First World War when the U.S. went to war with Germany and its ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They never marched in a protest parade for immigrant rights waving a Hungarian flag. They never took welfare or food stamps. They sent their children to public schools with the expectations they would learn English and be predictive citizens who would live better lives than they had. They worked hard, paid taxes and FIAC contributions and thought of themselves as Americans. To my knowledge they never had a desire to return the land of their birth.
Legally they were considered “legal aliens” and were required to register each year at the local post office. You might say they were “documented immigrants.” While some might consider them lower middle class they lived in a rented house and never owned an automobile. Joe and Rose took the bust to work each day. They raised three children who never belonged to a gang or got into trouble with the law. In essence Joe and Rose, like millions of those who passed through Elis Island were building the country we live in today without even knowing it. They took the freedom and opportunity offered them by the United States and gave back much more in return.
Today we have an out of control illegal immigration problem, mainly from Mexico and Central America. We have enclaves of Latino immigrants who express no loyalty to the United States. They want free college and some want territory in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas given back to Mexico. They belong to criminal gangs and eschew American culture for their own. They want to be taught in Spanish and do not want to learn American history. They want their own ethnic studies programs focused on Mexican culture and history. Their heroes are Castro, Che Guevara and Cesar Chavez. They want all of the financial benefits the state and federal governments can provide them without pledging loyalty to the U.S.A. This is a far cry from Vito Corleone or Joe and Rose Major.