THE NEW COLOSSUS
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”— Emma Lazarus, 1883
At the unveiling of Liberty Enlightening The World, President Grover Cleveland claimed with great optimism that the “goddess would pierce the darkness of man’s ignorance and oppression abroad.” My immediate thoughts after reading his blustery words were, what about man’s ignorance here at home?
Emma Lazarus, a 4th generation native New Yorker and a descendent of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish immigrants wrote her sonnet in 1883 so that Joseph Pulitzer could put it in his newspaper to be auctioned in order to raise money to finance the building of a pedestal for Lady Liberty to stand upon and face the Old World, while lighting the way to the New World with her lamp. Lazarus’ sonnet gleaned the highest sum topping other submissions by noted male authors of the day like Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. So, with donated funds raised from the good people of New York, both rich and poor, Pulitzer’s social action got the pedestal for “Mother of Exiles” financed so it could be built.
In 1903 The New Colossus was forged on a plaque of bronze and given a place of prominence on one of the inner walls of the pedestal for all who visit Her to read. Unfortunately, this was several years after Lazarus’ untimely-death from cancer so she never had a chance to see her gift of words underscore the gift of copper, iron, and steel from the people of France. During her short life, author Emma Lazarus was also an activist and a supporter of the plight of the disenfranchised everywhere, especially those German and Russian Jews who were pouring into Liberty Harbor fleeing their own countries from the bloody pogroms against them because of their ancient beliefs. The choice of Lazarus’ words to symbolize what The Statue of Liberty literally has come to stand for, to me, seems more than apropos for the turn of the last century, but what about this century? Do her words still resonate with all Americans today, even candidates for President?
Words are made-up things; just like age and time. Someone not so long ago made up letters and numbers and placed them on a grid or a dial and called it a calendar and clock forcing others to follow this made up system that keeps track of the ‘sun’ and the ‘moon’, which are made-up words for big lights in the sky. There are as many made-up clocks and calendars as there are made-up philosophies and religions. There are as many made-up words as there are made-up nations. Words can be both capital goods and consumer goods and they can be traded and debated on open and closed markets everywhere and whether or not we buy or trade them depends on who made them up.
We are born, we live, we breathe, we eat, and we die by someone else’s made-up words. Words of hope, words of love, words of hate, words of fear, words of truth, words of lies, words of poetry, words of philosophy, words of gods, words of monsters, words of food. Made-up words by real people for other real people to read, feel, dispute, like, dislike, agree, disagree, challenge, burn, save, love, shout, whisper, eat. Some people are murdered in the name of other people’s made-up words. Words are made-up things, like ‘gods and goddesses’, people who make them up are not.
During incredibly wordy times like these that find friends and families at odds regarding who should be leading this made-up nation, I always ask myself why Emma Lazarus’ words were so attractive to my ancestors who spoke an entirely different set of made-up words? These made-up words I ask myself are neurotic words. Neurotic is a made-up word that has 8 letters: 4 vowels; 4 consonants; N-E-U-R-O-T-I-C. Here is an anagram from the word neurotic: Cure not, I.
I have, as most of my second generation Italian-American family and friends, my own made-up words in the form of questions for my dead ancestors who sailed across the sea to see the “Mother of Exiles” and read Emma Lazarus’ made-up words. And sometimes I speak them and sometimes I write them, sometimes I sing them, and sometimes I scream them to an empty chair representing my dead grandfather, “WHY DID YOU LEAVE ITALY, ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD, TO COME TO AMERICA? WAS IT BECAUSE YOU WERE HUNGRY? COULDN’T YOU FIND A GOOD DELICATESSEN IN ITALY?”
In yelling these words at an empty chair I am reminded of the made-up words of the play The Chairs, a French existential absurdist tragicomedy by Eugene Ionesco. The play concerns two characters frantically preparing chairs for a series of invisible guests who are coming to hear a great orator reveal the meaning of life, not unlike recent acts of desperation at the Republican National Convention when no great orator could be produced, so they hired an actor who was never known for his eloquent speeches. Ironically, one of the lead characters in Ionesco’s play is The Old Man. Art imitates Clint.
Besides being hungry, the other made-up words I imagined my dead grandfather in the empty chair using to answer my question of why he and millions like him left their homelands to come to America were spoken with a very scary sounding growl, “Siamo partiti il tipo sbagliato di potere!” We were leaving the wrong kind of power!
I am reminded by modern day existential absurdist tragicomedies such as Political Conventions that throughout history the wrong people have come in to power a nation when that nation was at its most vulnerable point in their history; when the citizens of that made-up country were divided because many were hungry and few were not. I know you will not argue with me when I say that this election finds our country split down the middle. One needs to look no further than some of the made-up words between the made-up candidates to see that this is a true statement of made-up words by the real me. And unfortunately it never stops me from neurotically asking myself, “what kind of leader would want to win an election by spreading words of fear and hatred and lies against their own people?” Like the made-up Nazis, do these people really hate their real neighbors? Are they the wrong kind of power?
With all due respect to the real people going by the made-up nationality, German, especially the guy who made-up the word ‘delicatessen’, the Nazis didn’t invent the made-up word ‘fear’. It’s been around a very long time. They just knew how to reignite and manipulate it among their own people, like all good wordsmiths of yesterday and today. They also used bombs and guns and tanks and food.
Like so many of the wrong people who came into power at the right time, the Nazis took advantage of the uneven economic conditions that created tensions between friends and neighbors and turned them into enemies with words of hate. They further split their nation by selling words of a utopian vision for the future that did not include millions of their own citizens, millions of people going by the made-up word, ‘Jews’. This made-up vision of a perfect world was completely unattainable but the Nazis knew this and yet they also knew they could get away with it because most of their citizens were already believers in their own magical thinking, learned from dusty old books of made-up words riddled with ancient superstitions and made-up charismatic leaders coming to deliver them from an evil they made-up. Evil: 4 letters; 3 consonants; 1 vowel. Anagram: Live.
Well, we all know what happened next: the wrong people took power and further divided their citizens against one another with made-up words backed by real things like bombs and guns and gas and in doing so systematically eliminated friends and neighbors by conducting one of the worst attacks on humankind in the history of the made-up world. And as you all know, there is nothing new here either; acts of genocide of this magnitude continue throughout the world to this day and go back in time as far as there is recorded history. Just ask any Native American right here at home; they have there own made-up words too.
Regardless of what candidate you voted for this time around, we all need to remember we are also a nation of hungry, and tired, and homeless, and tempest tossed, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, in addition to those who have enough wealth to feed, clothe, and give beds to the entire world for the next several hundred made-up years.
During surreal times like these that border on theatre of the absurd in our ‘own’ (anagram: won) country, I often write made-up words like these and I even talk to empty chairs pretending the real people of the world are listening. I even make up characters to speak them and I set them in a made-up political convention of the future:
Lights up on a room full of empty chairs; a human in Greek robes, wearing glasses and a crown stands behind a podium holding a torch and speaks:
Hello. Thank you all for coming. Let me tell you a little about myself. I am not a male or a female, I am both. I am a member of the human race, not the presidential race. I am not Republican or Democrat. I am not a conservative or a liberal. I belong to no religion but I respect the rights of all individuals to worship at whatever masquerade party they choose, just keep your gods and your costumes out of our government and out of our public schools; if you can’t then that’s why God invented private schools. Try the Catholics, they have great schools and they also throw one of the best masquerade parties in town every Sunday, filled with enough images of naked men and women in pain and suffering for all who enjoy that sort of drama to embrace. That being said, as both a mother and a father, I personally feel that if we are censuring our children from such images in films and on the Internet then we should also consider asking our places of worship who display this type of ‘art’ to put up parental guidance notices because this is pretty heavy stuff for 4-year-olds to wrap their heads around, let alone some adults I happen to know, like priests. In other words, after all these years do we really need to stare at a sculpture of a bloodied half-naked man on a cross while listening to lovely words of peace and love?
And while we’re on the subject of love, I don’t care what legal adults make love to as long as their lovemaking is consensual. If their love is consensual and they want to marry themselves in front of their god or their state then that should be possible not regardless of their anatomy but in celebration of their anatomy.
And speaking of anatomy, my body is my own; it belongs to me and the made-up word for me is human. I didn’t ask for this body, it was given to me. Therefore, someone who was given a different anatomy will not punish me, and they will not be punished by me. Neither my real body nor my will is the property of a made-up legislative body, a made-up state body, a made-up leader — that’s called slavery and I guess you all can tell by now that I’m all about liberty.
As a member of the human race I believe the only thing war does is kill real people — all of who are our children. So, I will seek other solutions to resolving made-up conflicts between nations because I respect all humans who wear different costumes and use different calendars and have different made-up words and letters and numbers and gods and goddesses. Therefore, it may take a little longer to sort through all of our made-up rhetoric but in the long run all will thank one another because at the end of the made-up day, all of us who are mothers and fathers, or in my case both, will still have our real children to say nice made-up words to us on our made-up birthdays when we cry real tears about the made-up ripe old age we have just turned.
I respect all life on earth and that includes animal life, not just dogs and cats. This does not make me better than you; this makes me more aware of the power of plants which I will share with you whether or not I am elected; the same plant-power that feeds and fuels my friends the 16,000 lb elephants, the 8,000 lb hippopotami, the 4,000 lb rhinoceroses, and all other herbivorous creatures big and small; the same powerful plants that are used to feed farm animals before they are systematically murdered to feed humans. Can anyone really argue that the suffering of a head of broccoli equals that of a cow who must be fed, killed and bled before being skinned and butchered and then shipped in energy-zapping, fossil fuel guzzling, refrigerated vehicles to gigantic supermarkets across the globe? This is real madness and a real waste of our real precious resources and it is the number one cause of real human-induced global warming. I will work to develop and keep food production and distribution local and community supported by real people, not corporations.
Because my fight is not against you, my real friends; my fight is against the made-up corporate oligarchic state that we’ve all had a hand in creating. The corporate state that supports and profits from the real factory farming of animals; that supports and profits from the real poisoning of our water and land and eco system with real pesticides and real herbicides; that supports and profits from the real closing of our real factories and the real outsourcing of our real jobs to real slaves and then resells the goods we’ve designed back to us at huge profits; that supports and profits from a corrupt health care system controlled by insurance and drug companies; that supports and profits from the destruction of the environment; that supports and profits from the atrocities of war throughout the world. I am the candidate who will take on this group of criminals who hide behind the corporate shield; these same humans that we’ve allowed to run over our liberty. These are the new fascist storm troopers who honor the bent cro$$ of made-up currency and greed and corruption. I swear I will take them all down in the name of truth and justice. So, HELP ME! Help me, because I am going to need your help. My name is Mighty Hermaphroditey, and I approve this made-up message.