My America

Give me

(you are not American)

Your poor, your

(you are not American)

Huddled masses
yearning to breathe free

(you are not American)

Give me
the wretched refuse

(they are not American)
(you are not American)

of your teeming shore.
We are a melting pot.

(you are not American)

We are a shining light.

(you are not American)

“Today ICE separated a toddler from his mother.”

(You are not America)

If you stand idly by

(You are not America)

When you harden your heart

You are not America.

I wrote this poem standing in Sachsenhausen concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany. I was standing in a monument to mass killing, a testament to the depths of cruelty mankind has visited upon itself, when I read the news that the USA had begun separating immigrant children from their parents.

I have seen many articles suggesting that what we see in the USA resonates with Germany in the 1930s, but not until I walked through Berlin, not until I viscerally experienced the history of Hitler’s rise to prominence, not until I realized the shocking speed with which Hitler convinced the German Parliament to “temporarily” transform their democracy into totalitarian dictatorship, not until I thought deeply about the forces that allowed a country that had been in the center of the Enlightenment to fall into hatred and bigotry… not until then did I realize just how incredibly similar that was to what we’re seeing in this country really are. I’ll be posting a lot about this in the coming weeks, but for now, on this Fourth of July, I will say only this:

If you care at all about this country, remember that we were founded on the principal that all men are created equal. Remember that we have always been a beacon of hope and opportunity to the world, that we have always welcomed all who will to come, if they come with an open mind, open heart, and willingness to work together for a better future. If you believe that, if enough of us hold to our belief in that America, then there is hope for us all.

THIS is my America:

For those who don’t recognize it, here is the full text inscribed on the plaque of the Statue of Liberty, one of the pre-eminent symbols of our country. This poem was used to raise funds for the base of that statue; this used to be a cornerstone of our national identity. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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!”

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