By Kelly Kirschner, UnidosNow Board Chair
On behalf of the UnidosNow Board, our staff, dedicated volunteers, students, and families, I want to wish you a happy and safe 4th of July holiday. Never in my lifetime has there been a more sober period in our national experience to honor and celebrate Independence Day.
The celebrations in 2020 will be muted as public fireworks performances, festivals, and parades are cancelled, and we all wrestle with the pain of the ongoing pandemic; the global financial and unemployment crisis; and a reckoning with our long-held myth of American exceptionalism, in particular as it relates to our neighbors of color being able to equally participate in such an exceptional land.
With the backdrop of the current Black Lives Matter protests and the tumbling of statues around the country, it is a good moment to reflect on the history of the Statue of Liberty–our nation’s most iconic and recognized statue and its intersections with our current national challenges and the work of UnidosNow. As documented in this 2019 Washington Post article, the Statue of Liberty was originally conceived in 1865 to celebrate freed slaves, not immigrants.
The plaque with Emma Lazarus’ poem—“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was not added to the base until 1903, not too far from the broken shackles of slavery that lie at Lady Liberty’s feet, but rarely do we see included in images of her. The same French benefactors who beat the bushes to raise money to make the statue were also eagerly raising money to support recently freed slaves, who had been set forth into a land without a penny in their pocket, much less any benevolent-aid organizations to help them adjust to such a radically different life.
African slaves were immigrants—not of choice but by brutal force. Yet in many ways, the Lazarus’ poem does apply as much to the descendants of slaves as it does to today’s immigrant community: this nation, founded on the premise of Liberty, stands out amongst all others in the world, as you will breathe free here and share in the equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
Amidst these uncertain and tumultuous times, there is a latent sadness many of us share with how our nation’s ideals continue to be elusive, if not an outright scam for so many of our fellow citizens of color. Maybe this was best encapsulated on July 4, 1936, when President Franklin Roosevelt honestly reflected on our nation’s Founding Fathers during an Independence Day celebration at Monticello, the former slave plantation of Declaration of Independence author and President Thomas Jefferson: “Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be.”
As a supporter of UnidosNow, helping us raise an astounding $282,000 during the recent 2020 Giving Challenge that now supports over 400 of the region’s most vulnerable families bridge our current crisis, it is with utmost gratitude and appreciation that you are here with us and support us in this effort to build and make things as they ought to be in our community today – continuing to call into being the promise of our nation that was laid out on July 4, 1776.
Please enjoy your holiday, be safe and thank you for your continuing support.