The Spiteful Colossus–Thoughts on Immigration —by Jinny Batterson
(with apologies to Emma Lazarus, Irving Berlin, and my immigrant ancestors)
When I was in high school during the tumultuous 1960’s, our social problems were far from solved, but many of us believed that everyone deserved a chance at a better life in this, our nation of immigrants. Our high school chorus performed Irving Berlin’s setting of part of an earlier poem by Emma Lazarus:
“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!”
(for a more recent performance, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc4NFmutvu8)
The entire poem, “The New Colossus,” was written in 1883 to help raise funds for the installation of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The author worked with immigrants in the slums of New York City. She wanted to contrast the self-serving colossal monuments of the past with the more inclusive symbol of “Lady Liberty.” The poem is now inscribed on a plaque in the statue’s pedestal. Based on the behavior of our current president, perhaps the original lyric and the welcome it represented are outdated. Here’s an up-to-date version:
Give me your proud, your brash,
Your bullier of all who disagree,
A power hungry guy, his language, “cash”–
View, now, in our advanced democracy
A leader short on substance, long on flash.
Give me your pundits, do,
Your instant analysts of what’s been said
Your slick purveyors of a point of view
Say, do these telegenic talking heads
Rehash old prejudice disguised as news?
Take back your tired, your poor,
Tell huddled masses breathing is not free
No wretched refuse blots our pristine shores–
Go back, the homeless, war-torn, lost. You see,
I’ve doused my lamp and firmly shut the door.