Celebrating two nations
‘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, American poet, 1849-1887
It’s Independence Weekend in the U.S. At Mass this evening the pastor read the poem, ‘The New Colossus’, to us during the homily and he asked us to reflect on its imagery. He asked us if we could see ourselves among the tired and the poor and the huddled masses. He asked if we could see ourselves among the exiles, the homeless. Although I know the pastor was asking for deeper introspection, what first struck me was that I’ve felt more at home in this city than I have in any other I have visited. Even Toronto, where I have lived for a couple of years now, still doesn’t feel like home to me the way this city has in such a short time. I can’t really explain it. I feel embraced by the city. Perhaps New York City has a special kind of magic. What I have experienced here is a strong sense of interconnection and belonging. People have each other’s backs here.
When I first arrived in April, I was unsure what to expect. The political climate in the U.S. was (and still is) somewhat volatile. I wasn’t even sure that I would be allowed across the border since so many people were being turned back at the time. I anticipated that I would encounter xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes to match the political rhetoric. Instead, what I found was the complete opposite. Not only did I immediately feel welcome in this city but even more so, I witnessed a city that welcomes everyone.
On my first subway ride, I was surprised by how many posters I saw advertising services for immigrants. There were posters from the governor’s office offering assistance to any immigrants who found themselves in trouble. I’ve encountered every ethnic group and race walking along the city streets and I have heard diverse languages everywhere I have been – European, Asian, African, South American languages. The world lives in New York City. My experiences at the UN have only confirmed that. The UN welcomes the world to the city in its own bureaucratic and institutional way and gives space for dialogue and meeting.
This is not to say that New York City is a kind of utopia. It’s not. There is tremendous inequality and there are many social problems. But there is a philanthropic spirit and tradition that encourages giving for the good of all, and I have encountered people who are working hard to ensure that everyone belongs and that everyone is welcome.
As a Canadian with American roots on my mother’s side, I feel privileged to celebrate the Fourth of July in the U.S., and in this city. I celebrated Canada Day yesterday with great enthusiasm at an event hosted by the Canadian Consulate. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation and to be reminded of the values we Canadians hold dear. On the Fourth of July, I will celebrate and give thanks for my ancestral roots in the U.S., for the warm welcome I have felt, and for the American values and ideals I have come to so deeply admire.