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Don’t feel much of the good ole American spirit these days, what with the militarization of law enforcement from the DEA to the local sheriff, the obscene excesses of the top 1% and the violent ignorance of the bottom 1%.  Then, there’s all that vulgar McDonald’s Mallificence and mind numbing mass media culture.  I could go on and on about all the things that spark a sardonic recall of Cindy McCain’s mindless prattle, “Why, I’ve always been proud of my country.”

Well, instead of harping on all those negatives, I want to focus on one constant positive that I can teach my young Japanese students about America and be able to say, “Here’s something I can be proud of my country for; Immigration, the why, what and wherefor that formed an ‘enlightened’ European nation across the continent.”

Of course, to keep this a pride full story, I have to pass over any mention of the genocidal habits of the early illegal immigrants. [Sorry for the downer, Cindy. You didn’t know about that, did you?]

Liberty Enlightening the World


Sketch of Bartholdi’s concept for the Statue of Liberty published in Scribners Monthly – June 1887.

“The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States. The 46-meter statue, designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, was constructed in France and shipped to the US in pieces. The people of America donated the money to build the 47-meter-high pedestal. The giant lady was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886, on the site of an old army fort on Liberty Island in New York Harbor just off the coast of Jersey City.

Passing LadyLibrty

Photo: The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc./National Park Service

The French said the statue was to honor international republicanism, but in 1903 it became a symbol of immigration with the dedication of Emma Lazarus’ 1883 ode to the nation’s immigrant roots.

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!”


Families at Ellis Island, 1905. Photo by Lewis Hine

In 1911, my grandmother, then 23 years old, sailed past Lady Liberty as she arrived at neighboring Ellis Island aboard one of several German ocean liners built specifically to carry immigrants to America, their ‘promised land’.

-4The S.S. George Washington sailed the same route the Titanic would take one year later. In fact, while sailing that route on the afternoon of 14 April, 1912, the George Washington spotted a huge iceberg. The crew transmitted a warning to all ships in the area, but the Titanic, then on its way, never got the message.

Grandma Ella did make the crossing safely with her six-month-old baby, William, my uncle.  My grandfather William Valentine Degenhardt had come over ahead of them. He found a home for his family in nearby Rahway, New Jersey.

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My grandfather, William Valentine Degenhardt and grandmother Ella with their first son William. Circa 1918.


America has always been a nation of immigrants, but often new immigrants are shunned by those who arrived before them.work-5562461-1-flat550x550075f-history-marches-on-nativism-marches-in-placeRecently, the news is filled with images of children from Central America who were arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol for illegally entering the country across the US-Mexican border.

KidsCrossBorderBill O’Reilly, the popular Fox TV news commentator said what a lot of conservatives are thinking;

“These immigrant children will create an ‘underclass’ of people dependent on American taxpayers and that could damage the entire infrastructure of America.”



Immigration-Impact-400x215There have always been bigots, alarmists and nativists; there have also been good folks who try to keep America’s legendary hospitality alive. One of them, David Lynn Jones, echoed the words of Emma Lazarus in a simple country and western song. This song was performed by Willie Nelson and released in 1986 for Lady Liberty’s 100th birthday.




Give us your tired and weak
And we will make them strong
Bring us your foreign songs
And we will sing along

Leave us your broken dreams
We’ll give them time to mend
There’s still a lot of love
Living in the Promiseland

Living in the Promiseland
Our dreams are made of steel
The prayer of every man
Is to know how freedom feels

There is a winding road
Across the shifting sand
And room for everyone
Living in the Promiseland

So they came from a distant isle
Nameless woman
Faithless child like a bad dream
Until there was no room at all
No place to run, and no place to fall

Give us our daily bread
We have no shoes to wear
No place to call our home
Only this cross to bear

We are the multitudes
Lend us a helping hand
Is there no love anymore
Living in the Promiseland