Things I Learned at the Statue of Liberty
By Peri Kinder
Imagine the worst family reunion ever. Add some cholera and a couple dozen languages and you’ll get an idea of the conditions immigrants faced when traveling to America in the early 1900s. You think your Aunt Maude is annoying? Imagine being stuffed in a ship’s berth with her for almost two weeks.
But then. One morning you step onto the deck and see the Statue of Liberty standing in the New York Harbor, lifting her lamp and welcoming you to America. Breathtaking.
The hubby and I visited New York this summer and Lady Liberty was one of our first stops. At 130 years old, and standing 22-stories tall, she continues to attract people from all over the world who view her as a light in the darkness, a symbol of freedom, and the best place to buy overpriced ice cream cones and Statue of Liberty back scratchers.
While navigating the crowds on Liberty Island, I learned some things I thought I’d share with you.
1. Selfie sticks need to go. Maybe it’s an evolutionary stage. Maybe in 100 years, our arms will be three feet longer to accommodate our narcissistic self-obsession to document everything we do with a photo. I watched as girls stood in front of Lady Liberty, extended their selfie sticks and took seven or eight dozen pictures, flipping their hair from side to side and making kissy, duck faces at their cameras. By the angle of the phone, I’m sure the statue wasn’t even in the photo.
2. I’m so white. Picture hundreds of people with beautiful skin colors ranging from ebony to creamy mocha, and everything in between. And then there’s me. Boring white. And not just sorta white. I’m fluorescent-lightbulb-shining-in-an-igloo white. And it wasn’t just the skin colors. People streamed past in bright saris, colorful headscarves and multi-colored robes. I stood wearing America’s national uniform of shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers. All I was missing was a fanny pack and tube socks.
3. I’m not good at butting in line. Part of the Statue of Liberty experience was standing in line. For everything. I waited for the restroom, the drinking fountain, the tickets, the ferry and the souvenir Statue of Liberty plastic crowns. But not everyone chose to wait in line. Some people (you know who you are!) did the line merge where they slowly blend their way to the front of the line. My hateful glaring did nothing to stop them.
4. Tourists will buy anything. Americans commercialize everything, and Lady Liberty is no exception. If you’re looking for a Statue of Liberty snow-globe, bumper sticker, shot glass, toothbrush, underwear set or decorative clock, a crowded ferry ride to Liberty Island will fulfill all your dreams.
5. She still stands for freedom. At the statue’s right foot, a broken shackle and chain rest on the pedestal, representing freedom from oppression. Through all the shrieking immigration debates, her promise still resonates in the hearts of people all over the world:
“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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Lady Liberty is a pretty cool old lady. For more than a century she’s welcomed refugees, tourists, immigrants and dignitaries. She’s starred in several movies. She’s inspired poetry, anthems, songs and memes. But her real accomplishment is that whoever visits Liberty Island feels like part of a global family reunion with dozens of languages, cultures and dreams. Breathtaking.