The New Colossus

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, 1883

Although I have lived here now for nearly 28 years (more than half my life), this is my first time celebrating America’s birthday as an American citizen. And it is bittersweet.

When my first wife, Caroline, suggested all those years ago that we up-stakes and move here it was an adventure; I was young (ish) and America was the land of Kojak and American Graffiti, of TV and the movies and I really didn’t know exactly what to expect. But we packed all our belongings into a shipping container and off we went, and it was indeed an adventure and America was new and constantly surprising to me.

When the marriage fell apart (for all sorts of reasons, but suffice to say we are still friendly and I know she will read this) I had a choice: run home with my tail between my legs, or stick it out and embrace my new home and see if I could make it here on my own. And thank God I chose the latter!

My life here has been wonderful… I met my soulmate Jackie and her amazing, rambunctious, loving, crazy family; I eventually found what is really more a vocation than a job (who knew I would end up working for a church of all places, and loving it?); we had Crispian who is a constant source of joy, frustration, pride and marvel; I have friends, colleagues and parishioners who it is an honor to know and interact with; I have my dog to walk every day, and life is pretty damn good! 

So why would I call this day bittersweet? Well, it’s pretty obvious really. For all my cynicism I actually love my adopted country deeply as do most immigrants- I often say that in many ways we are more patriotic than those who can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower, all they had to do to be American was be born here, we had to pluck up the courage to leave everything we knew behind and work for it.

But things have changed. This is no longer the America of even a few years ago: xenophobia and ignorance have become the new norm and it’s scary! I had been toying with applying for citizenship for a few years, but it was Drumpf’s election that finally pushed me to do something about it, partly because I wanted to be able to vote in future elections but also, I will admit, partly out of fear of my own status- I am privileged to be white-skinned, Christian, and from a “friendly” nation, but I think anyone who is living here on any kind of visa or green-card is probably slightly nervous at the moment  if they are honest.

But don’t get me wrong, it is not all doom and gloom (and part of this ennui is probably brought about by the fact that Jackie is in Florida and I miss her dreadfully). Crisp and I are having a very happy day watching crappy movies and playing video games together, and we have some really good looking burgers in the fridge to throw on the grill later. And apart from the ridiculous spinelessness and sheer mind-numbing hypocrisy of most politicians (hello Mitch McConnell and your sudden rush to push through a SCOTUS nominee- remember Merrick Garland?), the obsession with guns that a small minority seem to be able to use to keep the death toll rising (Fuck the NRA!!!), the staggering greed of a very few at the cost of all the rest, and a few other things- there is still much to love.

So, Happy Birthday America! You scare the crap out of me while keeping me infatuated with you. I pledge to do my best to fight for what used to be the values you held dear.

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