Land of the free, that was?

The latest debate regarding flags, statues, and symbols celebrating key moments in American history got me thinking about the selective appreciation of such emblems and how this dispute continues to underscore the perennial effort to rewrite American history in the image of a perverse few who seek to redefine what it means to be American.  Hard to believe that a little before the Charlottesville tragedy, some of us were just about forgetting the heated exchange between Stephen Miller and CNN’s Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta as they verbally altercated over the historical significance of the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Miller belittled the poem —“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”— as an addition that followed the statute way after it was placed at what is now known as Liberty Island; hence, Miller argued,  the poem is divorced of the statute’s original intent as a beacon of liberty to the world. In fact, the poem was donated by Emma Lazarus and added to the base in 1903 after being used as part of a fundraising campaign for the statute; Lazarus was herself involved in helping refugees flee anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe in the late 1850s.

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Though somewhat technically right, Miller’s understanding of what Lady Liberty stands for is farther from the truth than he would care to admit given his history and policy hopes for the nation; Miller, known for his dark nationalist speeches written for President Trump,  is among a few white nationalists at the White House —including President Donald Trump— hoping to take back America for whites who perceive themselves as repressed and threatened by people ethnically, morally, and religiously inferior themselves.  Historically, America has been down this road before with the likes of the Know Nothing Party in the late 1850s and again in early 20th-century with the rise of eugenics and nativists policies that lead to sterilizations and the 1924 Immigration Act; the latter sought to restrict the flow of immigrants down to white Nordic types. Poor Italians and Irish were at the time viewed as inferior with their Catholic faith representing a moral threat to white, Protestant values.

Miller would serve his intellect well by paying attention to a widely ignored historical fact: that the Statue of Liberty was birthed in the mind of abolitionistÉdouard René de Laboulaye —presidentin the late 1800s of the French Anti-Slavery Society; furthermore, though the statute was gifted to the United States of America in commemoration of its 100th birthday, Labloulaye sought to honor the victory of the Union army in the Civil War and its consequences, which included the emancipation of black slaves --keep in mind those chains at the feet of the statute (see [Black Statue of Liberty - Summary Report - Statue Of Liberty National Monument (U.S. National Park Service)](http://bit.ly/2wKKoZi)).

As Americans, we need to ask ourselves why some of us are still dangerously clinging to a delusional and false historical romanticism involving traitors and immoral slaveholders who sought to keep slavery alive at the expense of a nation that was set on the cornerstone that all men were created equal. Why not seek to remember or rediscover the origins and the meanings of those symbols that unite us as Americans and define the struggle to nurture the values of freedom and liberty we claim to uphold? The Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus' sonnet are a good place to start if we are to query and memorialize those images, and words, that are meant to unite in lieu of picking at unhealed, festering wounds.

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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

- Emma Lazarus

With the bakers

In late 2015 my wife and I were invited to join a friend and his wife --Juan and Esther-- on a two-hour excursion outside Mexico City in San Rafael Atlixco. For days he nostalgically took us on a tour down memory lane detailing his family history and upbringing against the backdrop a place that had once been very commercially active in the 20th Century; it had been the town's golden century, that is until the French operation went belly up. 

Knowing my obsession for meeting people and documenting life, Juan took me to meet the owners of a local bakery walking distance from his spacious and recently renovated weekend home.  

The exit and the entrance --all the same to me.

The exit and the entrance --all the same to me.

Exit to Francisco I. Madero in Mexico City's downtown. 

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The Sponge on Broadway

Sponge Bob on Broadway

An image made while visiting New York to be with my parents who were living in Poughkeepsie at the time. Really hard to fathom the person who must have been wearing that suit in 90-degree Fahrenheit temperatures right on Broadway in the middle of July. He had made the effort to stand in the shade but the humidity that day was unbearable even for my father, my son, and me who were all dressed for the weather. Thinking about it while remembering a New York Times article I read about these street performers in New York City puts a lot in perspective. What some people are willing to do to make ends meet; they deserve a great deal of respect.

¿Tienes frío? (Are you cold?)

Are you cold?

A woman reaches for a sweater donated by the public in Mexico City. A group of journalists and photojournalists kicked off a campaign this winter labeled with the Twitter hashtag #SinFrioDF to get folks to donate clothing to those in need. 

I get asked these days by friends and family abroad about how Mexico is doing. Almost immediately an image of former President Carlos Salinas on the cover of Time Magazine in 1993 with the headline "Mexico Is Looking Up" flickers across my mind followed by the rest of significant events since then. Indeed, in spite of the economic turmoil that ensued in December of 1994 as the Mexican peso plunged things did take a turn for the better shortly thereafter. The party lasted a while as NAFTA began to take root and the world economy boomed. Mexico could have used this period of growth to diversify its economy, but didn't and the opportunity was ignored at a hefty price: its future. 

Today Mexico is struggling to stay on its two feet as it fights destructive gusts from internal and external whirlwinds. Dreams of one day joining a dwindling middle class are being crushed as poverty rises in a country where approximately 50% of the population already faces extreme economic hardship and reduced life chances. Inflation on some basics suffered significant increase according to some figures released at the start of the year while the current administration lives in denial of both the rise in deaths from the drug war as of 2014 and the impact of the commodity and currency crisis on the nation's economy. Just to think where things could be taken if the people who could make a difference were concerned with being transparent about the issues. Recognizing a problem brings you that much closer to fixing it, if it's not too late of course. 

Tower, light, and people

Tower, light, and people

Downtown Mexico City looking towards one of Mexico City's most iconic landmarks. 

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