A Fresh Perspective on the Statue of Liberty

Recently, on NPR, I heard an amazing interview with Tyler Stovall, the author of White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea. This title is definitely at the top of my ever-lengthening To-Be-Read List. It sounds like a very eye-opening book.

Just the interview opened my eyes on one topic: The Statue of Liberty. I’m paraphrasing here, because I was driving as I listened, and was unable to take notes. But it stuck with me because it’s a perspective I’ve never heard before.

I have always loved the Statue of Liberty. All my immigrant grandparents came here through New York City, and I think that imagining their excitement as they saw that statue welcoming them to their new home is what fueled my desire to travel at an early age. I really felt proud that this statue was given to us by France, and that it was a symbol of our celebration of immigration and freedom.

After all, Emma Lazarus’ poem, engraved at the statue’s base, includes the words, “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!”

God bless America, right?


Stovall points out that this statue was placed in New York Harbor for a very good reason. That was the hub of White, European immigration. You see no such statue at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. That’s where the majority of Asian immigrants first landed (when they were allowed to come, that is). You see no such statue on the Mexican Border, where most Latinx people enter this country.

We are all about giving us your tired and your poor, as long as they look White. We’re all about your huddled masses, as long as they’re Christian. We refuse that wretched refuse if it doesn’t pass muster in terms of eye slant or hair texture.

Another thing Stovall pointed out is that that statue is in New York City, which was a major slave hub. According to this article, NYC received its first slaves in the 1600’s. It had an official slave market starting in 1711. By 1730, 42 percent of the residents owned slaves. That’s a higher percentage than any other place in America except Charleston, SC.

New York continued to dominate the slave trade even decades after the abolition of slavery. So it’s rather ironic that there’s this huge Statue of Liberty placed there, of all places, and the only thing that seems to remind us of the heinous slave trade in the area is a little plaque that was placed at the site of the Slave Market, and that only went up in 2015.

Perspective. And more evidence of the need for Critical Race Theory. Just sayin’.

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Recently I came across an article on object love, or object sexuality, and I was really intrigued. Apparently there are people out there who are convinced they are in love and/or having actual relationships with inanimate objects. People have “married” the statue of liberty, the Eiffel tower, and the Berlin wall. (I’m curious to know how that last person reacted when the wall was torn down.)

I think the reason this subject fascinates me so much is that I can almost get it. I know where Jean-Paul Sartre was coming from when he said, “Hell is other people.” And this form of sexuality has been tentatively linked to the autism spectrum, so it’s safe to assume these people have tenuous connections with other humans in the first place.

I almost envy these folks. If you love a “thing” it will never die on you. (Well, except that Berlin wall situation, I suppose.) It will never disappoint you. It will always “be there.” It won’t cheat on you, or tell you those shorts make you look fat, or complain when you leave your socks on the floor. It will never subject you to in-laws or battle over the remote control.

Most of all, it will never reject you. That has a certain amount of appeal. It has more appeal the older and lonelier I get.

I almost wish I could flick a switch in my brain and become an objectophile. If I could, I’d buy one of those huge body pillows, fall in love with it, and never sleep in an empty bed again. Yeah, baby.

hell is other people

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An Immigration Story

For reasons that will be more readily apparent in my next “Exploring Seattle” blog entry, my maternal grandmother has been on my mind a great deal today. I’m staring at her copper pot that has been passed down to me and is one of my most prized possessions. It must have been one of hers, too, because she hauled it all the way from Denmark when she came here.

Other things that I know she carried with her on that long ocean voyage included an oil painting of pansies that my sister now has, a bible, family photographs, some Danish Silver and a Danish/English dictionary. She traveled alone, her first time at sea, to meet her husband who had gone before her. That must have been terrifying. On the journey she taught herself English by using that dictionary and deciphering an issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Needless to say, this did not make her completely fluent, and she never quite got there, but I admire her attempt.

She was fortunate enough not to travel steerage class, so her trip was not nearly as miserable as it could have been. She did go through Ellis Island, but was not subject to the horrible button hook eye inspection or the long lines with the “great unwashed.” But still, she was a young girl all alone after weeks on a cold unforgiving ocean, greeted by the familiar Statue of Liberty, then subjected to nothing familiar except her husband ever again. Ever again. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Having just moved 3000 miles to a place I’ve never been, where I know no one, I am starting to have an ever so slight sense of how she must have felt. Lonely. An outsider. Never quite comfortable. At least I know the language, and with the internet and widespread telephones I can keep in touch with my loved ones. It’s quite likely that my grandmother never heard from or saw many people ever again. Ever again.

But she did it. All my grandparents did. That’s how badly they wanted to improve their qualities of life. I totally relate.

As I gaze upon grandma’s copper pot, I can do nothing but admire her for what she did for future generations. And because of that, I can’t begrudge anyone’s attempt to become an immigrant. I can’t judge one immigrant over another based on their country of origin or their skin color. I can’t look at them as an evil “them” that becomes a threat to “us”. Every human being has hopes and dreams and family to support. Borders are artificial constructs. If you go far enough back in anyone’s family tree, you’re going to find an immigrant. Even the Native Americans crossed the great land bridge once upon a time.

No one is born with some golden ticket of privilege that makes them superior to others who, by simple misfortune, came to be born on a point on this little tiny planet in this vast universe that just happened to be a few degrees north, south, east, or west of opportunity. So you may or may not like our American president, but when I heard this speech, I cheered. For all of us. Everywhere.


Love Never Dies

My mother would have been 87 years old today. When she passed away 23 years ago I thought I’d simply drift off into space. She had always been the one thing that kept me tethered to solid ground, figuratively speaking. Without her I felt as though I had been cast adrift, like a ship without an anchor. Who knows on what shore I would wash up? That’s a scary feeling.

For months after her death, I kept thinking I saw her everywhere. She was the woman standing in line in front of me at the grocery store, the lady walking down the street as I drove past, the person in the crowd at a baseball game. This seeking behavior during the grieving process is normal and quite common.

We had plenty of warning that she was going to die. In fact, she stuck around a whole lot longer than anyone anticipated. The doctors kept saying they couldn’t believe she was still here. We actually used to talk about it quite a bit, until the pain medication made her incapable of recognizing anyone.

She knew I occasionally liked to visit the Cassadega Spiritualist Camp for their free Sunday message service, where people who have crossed over can, in theory, communicate with the living through mediums. Toward the end my mother said to me, “Once I’m gone, don’t go back to Cassadega. I’m not going to want to be bothered.” She was joking. Sort of. But so far I’ve respected her wishes.

About a year after her death, I took a trip to New York City for the first time in my adult life. I was standing in line at the dock, waiting for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where all my grandparents had entered the country. I was listening to a street performer as he walked up and down the line entertaining the crowd. My mother would have loved this experience. I looked skyward and thought to myself, “Ma, you are with me. I love you.”

Right at that moment, the street performer came to a dead stop in front of me, and started singing, “You are my Sunshine”, which is a song my mother always used to sing to us. I do love those moments when one sheds happy tears, don’t you?

And then the other night I was working on the bridge at around 4 in the morning and feeling kind of lonely and sorry for myself. I looked out the window at the city skyline, and I said, “Ma, I miss you so much.” A minute later, a pen that was sitting on the window sill on the other side of the room, in a ridge that was there to specifically prevent such occurrences, fell onto the floor.

I thought about it for a few seconds, then said, “Okay, Ma, if that’s you, I need some kind of sign that this year is going to be better than last year, because frankly I can’t take another year like 2013.” Two minutes later, my backpack, which had been sitting in a chair on the other side of the room all night long, fell to the floor.

Was my mother trying to communicate with me, or were these just freaky coincidences? I don’t know. But in retrospect, does it really matter? The love is there either way, and it always will be.

car1My mother, with her whole life ahead of her.