The Others

There is a 305 feet tall monument in New York Harbor that was built as a symbol to welcome all immigrants into the United States.

It is called the Statue of Liberty and was a gift from France to the U.S. in the late 1800s to honor American values and the end of slavery (Note: Ahem) after the Civil War.  

Hey gurl

The idea for this gift came from a conversation between Edouard Laboulaye, a politician, law professor and president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, and the sculptor Frederic Bartholdi. 

I’ve thought a lot about the Statue in recent weeks as the United States continues to have a centuries old debate about immigration. 

Among the questions raised in this debate are statements like:

How many do we have to take?

– What about US, or the U.S.?

– We feel bad for “those people” but right now we don’t have enough American jobs for real Americans.

And my favorite: 

Why must we dilute American culture, religion and skin color with THEM, to the point where our very own AMERICAN culture, religion and skin color, gets watered down and rendered unrecognizable?

Seriously?

There is no point getting into the details of any one of those questions, and many more, over immigration to a country whose very existence was built on a nation full of immigrants from an oppressive society traveling to a new country where everyone from anywhere would theoretically be free to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That the U.S. has not always lived up to its mission statement is not in debate.  But that this was always a fact of its intention is undeniable if you subscribe to historical facts, or any facts at all.

This week I watched the superb three-part PBS documentary The U.S. and The Holocaust by filmmakers Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein.

A must see

It’s a riveting six hours of overtly watchable, if maddening, history that sadly feels all too contemporary.

This is not only because it gives us a painstaking account of the rise and, not necessarily guaranteed at the time, fall of the Nazi Party.

Rather it is due to the fact that with the myriad of interviews with people who were there, combined with historical footage, governmental documents, and accounts from some of those serving the White House during those years, it explains the reluctance of the U.S. to open its doors fully to Jews desperate to escape (nee migrate) here, at the time. 

Too few

As the film puts it, this was principally due to:

a. A repressively strict immigration quota system and, more importantly,

b. A nationwide resistance to allowing our country to become overrun with others who would threaten the religious, economic and social balance in the U.S.

In simpler terms, this means Jews who would be needy, Jews who would take American jobs and, mostly, Jews that were branded as inferior and responsible for the economic troubles real Germans, nee Europeans, were forced to endure during the 1930s.

It wasn’t until several decades later when America had already won the war; six million Jews, not to mention many millions of others, had been killed; and the country had fully recovered from the Depression it was still reeling from in the 1930s, that US immigration quotas were lifted.

The sad truth

Yet all the while most of the top decision makers in the U.S. government knew of the grave danger and mass murders the Jews in Europe were enduring all through the 1930s. 

Also, as the filmmakers inform us, public sentiment AGAINST welcoming any more European Jewish immigrants was well over 70% during most of that time.

This included a large and very rabid Nativist, Anti-Semitic movement dominating a significant section of public and private institutions in the U.S. being spearheaded by people like much adored, wholly American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh.

Dr. Seuss on Nativism, 1941

Well, what do you do when so many in a country don’t want to open its doors for outsiders from another country and culture to come inside?

How about when those citizens, already hurting from their own economic woes, claim there is no room for THEM? 

These questions plague us to this day.  To wit:

What can you say when people whose lives are in danger, people who have no physical resemblance to the majority of US,  literally arrive here (Note: We are more connected these days and have better transportation) by the tens of thousands?

Do you tighten the borders, raise the quotas and build a theoretical and/or literal wall to keep them out?  (Note: Also known as buying them bus or plane tickets to simply get them out of your sight and away from your town).

It isn’t a game

Or do you take history into account, visit New York Harbor (note: physically or virtually) and consider who you are as a nation and how you can learn from your past mistakes?

Here is some information about our very own Lady Liberty that might shed some light on things, as she is wont to do anyway.

Mr. Laboulaye, who as mentioned had the idea for Her in the first place, was a staunch abolitionist and supporter of the Union Army during the Civil War.  In other words, he was rabidly against slavery, especially the kind that helped build the United States.

Hey Eddie!

So when that particular form of servitude was officially outlawed here  (Note: Ahem, again) he decided it could be significant to have a proper symbol of freedom greeting all newcomers on their arrival to these shores of freedom.

It would be the first visual they saw upon arrival, an encouraging beacon lighting the road to a new life in the offing.

That sculpture, Lady Liberty, actually depicts the Roman Liberty goddess, Libertas.  She holds a torch high above her head in her right hand and in her left is a tablet on which the Roman numerals for American Independence Day, July 4, 1776, is inscribed.

Fundraising efforts included visiting the torch for 50 cents as the platform was being built (1876, Philadelphia)

But the pedestal on which she stands, which would become part of the statue we know, took more than a decade plus to finance and build in the U.S. separately through donations spearheaded by a member of the media, a newspaper publisher (Note: Imagine that!) named Joseph Pulitzer. 

It accounts for half the height of what is now one of the most iconic monuments in the world and bears a plaque of the poem The New Colossus, written by 19th century poet Emma Lazarus.

Not coincidentally, Ms. Lazarus was a Sephardic Jew from an immigrant family of Portuguese descent, as well as an activist on behalf of Jewish immigrants. (Note: Imagine that, again!).

Both icons

And though her poem was not written specifically for the Statue her words have, over the years, become synonymous with its intent.

Among the most famous is this section:

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!

This is not to say that it takes someone Jewish inside the U.S. or a foreigner from outside the country (Note: In France, no less!) to show and tell us what democracy and American values are all about.

However, it has always been of interest to me that it took Czech born film director Milos Forman to make so many great films chronicling America, including the quintessential American counterculture musical, Hair; the fictional story of E.L. Doctorow’s America in Ragtime; an unlikely depiction and ultimate condemnation of American censorship in The People vs. Larry Flynt; and a celebration of oddball American creativity in the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man in the Moon.

Amen to that

It has also not escaped me that the very, very New York Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin, wrote one of most popular anthems the U.S. conservative movement has ever wrapped its arms around, God Bless America.

All this is to say that every once in a while, and perhaps more often than that, it’s nice to be reminded who we really are, or strive to be, by some of the OTHERS who, rightly or wrongly, admired US.

And to welcome them into the fold and learn from them the lessons we were all supposed to have known in the first place.

Aretha Franklin – “God Bless America”

How I Learned to Love My Mask

I’m getting to love my masks.

Well, maybe love is too strong a word.  But I do like them and the more time I spend with them and think about them I like them even more.

They’re sort of like the boy or girl you meet and begin to date that you feel just fine about and then, a year later, find that you’re married to.

it’s all very romantic

It’s been my experience that relationships that begin too fiery wind up scorching you permanently in uncomfortable places.  Or at the very least, they wind up betraying you.

It’s far better to start out slow or even ambivalent and then let the feelings build.  It might not always amount to something substantial but when it does you realize that it gives you those things you are truly looking for.

I hate to reference Dr. Phil, who I have only seen on TV a handful of times and is a Trump voting Republican.  But years ago I once heard him refer to those things as a soft place to land.

The Chair quoting Dr. Phil? #twilightzone #trust #keepreading

Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day so in this case I have to agree with him.  The slow, kind build that sort of sneaks up on you and makes you feel safe and protected is almost always the way to go.

These days especially, you have to play the long game.

Which brings us back to masks.

OK enough with the playing around, this is serious biz

I didn’t like my masks at first.  They were too confining, especially for someone like myself who wears glasses.  I’d go outside and they’d fog my glasses up.  I’d come back inside and they’d need to be either washed or discarded.  I go in and out of the house too many times and they’d be easy to forget, or rather impossible to remember.

That is, until they weren’t.

I think what began to turn the corner for me were the statistics.  Now that over THREE MILLION AMERICANS are infected with COVID-19 and I find myself suddenly living in one of the hottest hotspot COVID states and cities (Note: California and Los Angeles), my masks began to remind me of my always devoted and loving husband.

ANSWER: EVERYONE #fullstop

He was one of the first guys I ever dated that I finally realized I could rely on implicitly.  It took me awhile and I put him through a lot of tests and turbulence and, well bitching and complaining and worse, but no matter what I did he was there.

And not only was he there but I found I could rely on him to protect me when things went badly.

Even better, I got a lot of enjoyment from him.  He was fun and he didn’t take himself too seriously.

Not to compare my husband to a mask but once wearing the latter became the one constant ALL TRAINED MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS recommended could protect you from coronavirus disease (Note: And possible DEATH, not even something a husband can do) I began to grow a similar appreciation for my masks – each and every one of them.

Even this one… worn by this idiot

Yes unlike the way I am with my husband, we are not monogamous.

Still, each of them is loyal, ALWAYS does the job, never complains and, in fact, is amusing, resourceful and AVAILABLE whenever I need IT.

For reliability I have the cloth ones in various colors and designs.  There is the black one, the military green one and even the red one (Note: The latter only on special occasions).

New favorite accessories

The patterned ones make me particularly happy.  My go to is the gray and white crisscross design, which reminds me not to take myself too seriously and seems to make people smile when they pass me by on the street (Note: Of course, I can’t know this for sure since the only people I look in the eye outside my own home are wearing their own mask).

I am also partial to the one emblazoned with part of the title of an old noir movie I never heard of.  A friend who makes them and donates the proceeds of the sales for PPE equipment to doctors and nurses sent it to me from the east and, truly, they’re genius – and durable.  I’ve washed it 25 times already and it still hasn’t lost its elasticity. (Note: Which is more than I can say for myself these days).

Etsy is there for you

Early on in the pandemic, when there were near ZERO masks available, I bought a dozen plain white ones which tie behind your neck from a local linens company (Note: Okay, Matteo).  I am still particularly devoted to them, especially when I wear white sneakers (Note: Hey, I’m gay and I like to match) because they, in particular, got me through truly tough times early on.

I also have two N-95 masks in white that I and my husband only wear when going into particularly dangerous territory (Note: Like a medical building), presents again sent to me from another dear east coast friend who knew our mask supply was near nil some months ago.  Each time I wear it I think of him, caring soul that he is, and feel doubly safe.

Swoon

I saved the dozens of blue disposal masks for last because, well, these are the ones that the majority of people I’ve seen walking around town wear.  Not only are they easy to use (Note: Just slap it on, put the strings behind your ears and pull at the paper cloth from both ends to quickly to cover your nose and mouth) but they are the ones that demand the least maintenance.  Not to sound callous, but they’re like the one-night stand of face coverings.  Once you’re done with them you can literally throw them away and never deal with them again.

Nevertheless, if I had to choose I’d say these blues ones are probably my favorite because, while wearing them, I feel most connected to the outside world.  When I have one on and then see its twin on the face of one of my fellow humans it reminds me that not only am I not alone but that we are all in this together.

It also makes me think, perhaps naively, that we can all live to fight another day.

Or maybe even not fight, just live.

Randy Rainbow – “Cover your freakin’ face”