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November 4, 2021

Vintage Photos of Immigrants Approaching the Statue of Liberty

Between 1886 and 1924, almost 14 million immigrants entered the United States through New York. The Statue of Liberty was a reassuring sign that they had arrived in the land of their dreams. To these anxious newcomers, the Statue’s uplifted torch did not suggest “enlightenment,” as her creators intended, but rather, “welcome.” Over time, Liberty emerged as the “Mother of Exiles,” a symbol of hope to generations of immigrants.

The opening of the immigrant processing station at Ellis Island in 1892 in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty facilitated an immigrant association, as did the later popularity of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus.” In 1883, Lazarus donated her poem, “The New Colossus,” to an auction raising funds for the construction of the Statue’s pedestal. This poem vividly depicted the Statue of Liberty as offering refuge to new immigrants from the miseries of Europe. The poem received little attention at the time, but in 1903 was engraved on a bronze plaque and affixed to the base of the Statue.

War tensions in the 20th century reinforced this connection and further advanced the image of the Statue in the harbor as an emblem of the United States as a refuge for the poor and persecuted of Europe, and as a place of unlimited opportunity. Sometimes this image glossed over the very real drawbacks and difficulties of settling in the United States, but it was a romantic view that was dominant for decades and continues to persist. In addition to masking immigrant setbacks in the United States, it was a story that tended to favor the European side of immigration at the expense of trials encountered by newcomers from Latin America and Asia.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1936 speech in honor of the Statue’s 50th Anniversary helped solidify the transformation of the Statue into an icon of immigration. In the speech he presented immigration as a central part of the nation's past and emphasized the newcomers’ capacity for Americanization.

1 comment:

  1. Immigration is by definition a legal process, as is seeking asylum.
    Entering a sovereign nation by any other means is nothing less than criminal invasion.




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