Statue of Liberty marks 125 years, hosts naturalization for 125
The United States celebrated the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on Friday with the naturalization of 125 new citizens from 46 nations, a ceremony of unity that temporarily put aside the political and geographical changes associated with the contentious issue of immigration.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar kicked off the daylong celebration with a speech praising immigrants for bringing diversity to the nation, thus strengthening it. Other scheduled highlights included hooking up Internet webcams on the statue to let viewers gaze out from Liberty island onto New York Harbor, a salute from a small flotilla of boats and, later, a fireworks display.
In 2010, the New York area was the scene of 72,000 naturalizations out of the 670,000 held nationally, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said by telephone from Friday’s ceremony.
The Statute of Liberty was designed to be a lighthouse but it evolved into a symbol of freedom and of friendship between France and the United States. Ultimately it became the first sight of hope for waves of European immigrants coming to the United States to avoid famine and war.
The statue, also known as “Liberty Enlightening the World,” traces its artistic roots back to classical lighthouses in the shape of heroic deities that adorned some ancient ports. The version in New York is a neoclassical interpretation of the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas.
The statue itself was a gift from the French people to the United States, which raised money for the pedestal.
In an early example of what some would now call the synergy between the media and patriotism, some of the American fundraising was pushed by newspaper baron Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, whose campaign used what in the 1880s was cutting-edge mass communications. It drew more than 120,000 contributors, many of whom gave less than a dollar to help pay for a piece of history.
The statue may have started as a general paean to freedom, but it evolved into a symbol of immigrants forced to leave their homes seeking something better in a new land. Originally, the statue was one of the first things that boatloads of immigrants -- Irish, Italians, Middle European and others -- saw as they entered the United States, where they became the working classes of northeast cities and, eventually, the political party machines that ran them.
It was Emma Lazarus who captured that feeling in her poem to the statue, “The New Colossus" (a titular reference that combined the Colossus of Rhodes, an ancient Greek lighthouse, with the new French statue and with the power of an emerging United States). Her lines -- including "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” -- were eventually engraved on a brass tablet. That tablet was once inside the pedestal but is now in the Statue of Liberty Museum.
Of course, the world has changed markedly in the 125 years since the Statue of Liberty was dedicated. If an immigration statue were erected today, it might instead face Latin America or Asia, the sources of the new immigrants, legal and illegal.
But some things haven’t changed -- such as the battle over how much and what kind of immigration to allow. That fight, which dates almost to the founding of the United States, is still under way.
-- Michael Muskal
Photo: The Statue of Liberty. Credit: Richard Drew / Associated Press