What Have We Done to the New Colossus (Lady Liberty)?


Proud to be an American

I grew up thinking that I lived in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ My great country, the United States of America, had symbols and icons that proved this theory. As a country we have done a stellar job in instilling national pride through symbolism into our children.

The colors that Betsy Ross stitched into Old Glory represent hardiness and valor (red), purity and innocence (white), vigilance, perseverance, and justice (blue). The bald eagle, majestic bird of prey, reminds us of the strength that comes from exercising freedom. We teach our children that ‘This land is your land, this land is my land/from the California to the New York island.’ And the Statue of Liberty offers acceptance to people of all races who want to enjoy the life that we enjoy.

Or so I thought.

What Have We Done to the Facts?

As I grew older, I realized that symbols, lyrics, and icons represent ideals, not necessarily reality. Betsy Ross didn’t stitch the first American flag. That honor goes to Francis Hopkinson .

Love your freedom? Before you crow about it, think about it. #freedom #immigration #liberty #socialjusticeThe bald eagle acts more as a bully than a lone, valiant hunter. It steals food from smaller birds of prey and feast on carcasses. In addition, it needed an act of Congress to protect it (starting in 1940), and placement on the Endangered Species List for over 40 years.

Despite what Woody Guthrie claims, as a nation, we have worked hard to polish our past and gloss over the injustices that made the land ‘ours.’ A close look at our history would reveal that what we’ve done in the name of freedom looks shockingly close to things that we invade other countries for today. Genocide to gain land. Offering bounties for the scalps of Native Americans (including women and children). Enslaving those of African descent. Illegally imprisoning US citizens during wartime (those of Japanese, Italian, and German descent).

Imagine my shock when I learned that the Statue of Liberty’s designer created her as a monument to the principles of international republicanism. The poem that Emma Lazarus donated to an art foundation to raise money for a pedestal for the statue reinvented Lady Liberty’s purpose in the early 1900s.

The irony of the immigration question in our country lies in the fact that unless we have pure Native American blood, we are all immigrants (or the descendants of immigrants). Since 1798, the government has regulated immigration. Our doors have opened and closed based on current public sentiment. We came up with country quotas and strict rules about health and sanity. During World War II, we denied entry to Jews fleeing persecution, fearing that they all acted as Nazi spies.

A Call to Consider

We have often done horrible, unconscionable things in the name of our national symbols. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue. We can take a rational look at the rhetoric and ask ourselves if we base our actions and attitudes on feelings, or logic.

Our gut reactions always come from our feelings, but that doesn’t guarantee infallibility. How often have we done something in the heat of anger that we later regretted when logic kicked in and our tempers cooled?

I love my country, and I believe in her ideals, but I don't always agree with her actions. #freedom #patriot Click To Tweet

I love my country, and I believe in her ideals. But I don’t always agree with how she acts. She gives me the liberty to use my one small voice to speak out, which I treasure. Above all, I try to remember that we all have faults, but our goal is to learn to live together. Peter gives some great advice in 1 Peter 3:8-9:

“Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you. No exceptions, no retaliation, no sharp-tonged sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing (MSG).”

I’ll leave you with my version of Emma Lazarus’ poem:

      The New Colossus: 2018

by Anita Ojeda

Not like the gentle gift from France once said
Our Lady Liberty doth now proclaim
“Here at our shores the invitation’s dead.”
A woman in green looks out with disdain
Upon exiles from lands with brothers slain
“We have no more room, not even a bed!”
Her hardened expression shoots out with dread,
“Dream not of sweet freedom,” now her refrain
“Keep, violent lands, all your tired masses!
We’ve no room for your dreaming, huddled, poor,
Perhaps terrorists lurk in those classes.
Let’s close the borders and slam shut the door
To refugees we’ll not issue passes!”
Liberty’s lamp—extinguished on our shore.


  1. e’ve got to invest in these people; not just let them in, but show them how to become part of our culture.

    Ethnic ghettos don’t work in Europe; they don’t work here. And people who have given up everything to come to this place deserve more than a cursory, “Go live with your people.”

  2. Yes and amen. Again. I’ve said that to you twice, today. You have summarized so much of our history so well and it IS something we need to consider though so many argue we need to keep our histories the way we’ve been taught them. Written by white men, if I can be so bold. Keep speaking out on this. It is important!

  3. So right there with you. So much THIS: “I love my country, and I believe in her ideals. But I don’t always agree with how she acts.” when I’m in NYC in a week or so, I’m going to remember this post. I’m in the 57 spot this week.

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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