New York Times
By Elizabeth Tarbell
August 04, 2017
The words did not ring a bell among many visitors to the Statue of Liberty on Thursday.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Nope, never heard them, said Syed Naqvl, 61, a lawyer from Pakistan.
Mr. Naqvl, who was spending two days in New York as part of a 25-day vacation in the United States with his family, shook his head when a passage from Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem, “The New Colossus,” was read to him, though he knew the history and symbolism of the statue.
“It was gifted by the French,” he said. “It is a symbol of liberty and welcome home for immigrants who enter the United States, especially by sea.”
On Wednesday, Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to President Trump, and Jim Acosta, a reporter for CNN, argued about the meaning of the Statue of Liberty and its connection to Lazarus’s pro-immigration poem.
Mr. Acosta had asked if the administration’s immigration policy conflicted with the ethos of the statue. Mr. Miller countered by noting that the poem was not in place when the statue was dedicated in 1886. Instead, the plaque was added to the pedestal in 1903.
Their exchange occurred at a White House briefing to detail Mr. Trump’s support for changes in the way immigrants are admitted to the United States, giving advantages to English-speaking applicants with high-paying job offers. The measure could result in a 50 percent reduction in legal immigration in its 10th year.
Rodney Goodall, 62, a member of the Australian Army Reserve, from Queensland, Australia, was visiting the statue with his family. He had watched a clip of Mr. Acosta and Mr. Miller’s argument — at one point Mr. Acosta asked, “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?” — but had never read Lazarus’s poem before.
Now, reading it, Mr. Goodall said the poem and the statue were “one and the same.”
Dennis Mulligan, who has been a ranger for 20 years with the National Park Service, which operates the statue, said “The New Colossus” plaque had been in several locations. According to Mr. Mulligan, there are no photographs of its original location as part of the statue’s pedestal, but it is believed to have been in one of the balcony areas of the colonnade.
Since 1986, the plaque has been part of a display in the museum within the pedestal. Mr. Mulligan said he urged visitors to interpret Lazarus’s poetry and the statue’s significance as they wished.
“I would say ultimately the statue is the story of people,” he said, “and there are many things that have attached itself to what she represents.”
As for Lazarus’s sonnet, he said: “It’s a piece of poetry. It’s a work of art. They see what they want to see. That’s what art is.”
Kara Kiratikosolrak first visited Liberty Island as a 2-year-old traveling from her native Thailand. In an old photograph, she said, she is holding her father’s hand as he clutches her baby sister.
Kara, now 14 and a new immigrant to the United States, had returned to the statue with her sister and an aunt, on vacation from her new home in Solon, Ohio.
She said she had heard people in her town talking about Mr. Trump’s immigration policy, but didn’t know much about it herself. “I just know I’m going to school here and I love it,” she said.
As for Lazarus’s poem, she said, “This is my first time reading this.”
Luz Villegas, 59, was leaning against a guardrail in Battery Park on Thursday, looking out at New York Harbor and Liberty Island. Ms. Villegas, an immigrant from Venezuela, said that when she moved to New York City in 1993, her first stop was the statue. She said she had returned frequently, visiting the previous Saturday, in fact.
Though Ms. Villegas had not heard about the exchange between Mr. Miller and Mr. Acosta, she said Lazarus’s poem was her favorite part of visiting Liberty Island. If visitors see the statue without it, she said, “we miss something important.”
She suggested reading the poem before going up to the crown, and again when one gets back down. “I wish people really took the time to digest what they read,” she said.
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