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The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Tzido Sun/Shutterstock).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Give Me Your Tired…

By Kevin O'Toole, May 24 2022 12:01 am

“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!”
The New Colossus – Emma Lazarus – 1883

 

My law partner, Tom Scrivo, and I recently had the occasion to visit Ellis Island for a very impressive corporate event. There was a grand anniversary celebration of this New Jersey based company and individuals from many of the 50 states were in attendance. While the anniversary was a pretty cool event (Sara McLaughlin has an amazing voice), what struck me most was the unrehearsed and unexpected raw emotions experienced by the passengers on the ferry as we rode toward Ellis Island. Let me get to the punchline—the scene stealer was the view of the Statue of Liberty.

The way the trip was planned you were given a fantastic scenic ride up through the Hudson River, viewing all of the incomparable Manhattan skyline and all that Jersey City has to offer—pure beauty all around. But the hold your breath moment arrived as we nudged within a few boat lengths of the Statue of Liberty. Actually seeing, in person, this national and international treasure was pure magic.

Now we all see the statue from afar, whether it be a highway view, a television or movie shot, or sometimes as a backdrop in the news. But if you haven’t had the privilege to see it up close and personal, you haven’t experienced the American Dream, and you haven’t done justice to an American treasure.

A moment of pure reflection-

As we pulled up on Lady Liberty, with the sun beginning to set, the hundred or so on the ferry grew silent, almost as if they entered a religious ground. After a moment of taking it in, many took out their phones and took hundreds of photos and videos, preserving the moment and scene for future generations to see. But the most connective part of the trip was the chatter amongst the passengers as the Statue came into view. Almost every person had a story of a grandparent, or a mom or dad, or close relative who came through these very same waters as an immigrant, all seeking the same thing—a fresh start in a free country and striving to work hard to capture that elusive American Dream.  The child like enthusiasm was abound as one story after another tumbled out about the journey from afar to this American soil.

Harkening back a few hundred years, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty have symbolized the passageway of freedom for literally millions.

Interestingly, up to 20 million immigrants waded up to this spot, seeking freedom, seeking opportunity and pursuing the American ideals. And up to 40% of those living in the USA today, including me, can trace their ancestry to immigrants who paid a visit to Ellis Island.

You speak to those immigrants today, or the direct descendants of those freedom seekers, and hear story after story about a life left behind that usually had the horrible markings of war, destitution, poverty, sickness or oppression and the hope was to move, literally and figuratively, in another direction to allow themselves and their families a moment to be free, an opportunity to educate their children, a place to openly pray and worship, and someplace to call home. As we departed on that last ferry out to the mainland, and as fireworks lit up the sky (spectacularly so), the only question that remained unanswered – if we all came here from somewhere, and we are all joined by a common pursuit of that special dream, why are we still dealing with the insidious strains of racism, classism and other modes of hate and discrimination?

My take away – given our common beginnings and shared family journeys, we all need to do a better job making all others feel more welcome in this place we call America.

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