On Being An American
In New York City last week to work at a conference, I scheduled some free time to visit a couple of iconic American landmarks, namely the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It was my first visit to both, having only seen them from afar during a harbor cruise years ago.
Lady Liberty is truly impressive when you get up close and can experience her height. At the time of her installation in 1886 she was the tallest structure in New York City, and the world’s tallest statue; measuring a lofty 151 feet tall, or 305 feet if you include the pedestal and star-shaped fort at her base. You have to crane your neck to gaze on her face.
A gift from French libertarians and officially named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the statue celebrated freedom and liberty, ideals which had caused British colonials to rise up against their ruler and break away to form a new nation – the United States of America.
Needing a work force to build this new nation, America opened her doors to immigrants. A new Federal immigration processing station was built on Ellis Island, opening on January 1, 1892. Between this date, and its closure in 1954, 12 million people passed through its doors, hoping to be welcomed and to find a better life than the one they left behind. Some of those people were ancestors of mine.
Looking at the photographs and reading the stories displayed in the Ellis Island museum, I find it hard to imagine what circumstances drove these people to leave their homeland and everything familiar to cross an ocean by ship and try to start again in a strange place. Many could not speak English, had little resources other than desperation or determination, and endured many hardships. Yet, they persevered and helped to build our great country.
Seeing these historical landmarks made me proud to be an American; proud of the men and women who risked everything in a revolution against tyranny. It also left me feeling thankful; grateful that my distant relations were admitted, grateful that I live in this country and can enjoy the freedoms that we have.
It is easy to be complacent and to take what we have for granted. But, seeing the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the newly opened One World Trade Center known as the Freedom Tower, one is reminded of the cost of our freedom, and how very precious it is.