Obligated to Stand

Letters

BY KELLY KIRSCHNER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING SATURDAY JUL 4, 2020

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us… The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” — Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" 7/5/1852

2020 marks the 10th anniversary since the local immigrant-integration, non-profit UnidosNow was formed. I am proud to be one of the founding members, having done so amidst the backdrop of local, state and national issues negatively impacting immigrant communities. July 4, 2020 seems to be an appropriate date for deeper reflection on our non-profit’s existence and work.

Never in my lifetime has there been a more sober period in our national experience to honor and celebrate Independence Day. The celebrations in 2020 will be muted as public fireworks performances, festivals and parades are cancelled and we all wrestle with the pain of the ongoing pandemic, the global financial and unemployment crisis and a reckoning with our long-held myth of American exceptionalism, in particular as it relates to our neighbors of color being able to equally participate in such an exceptional land.

With the current Black Lives Matter protests and the tumbling of statues of historic figures of questionable morality around the country, it is a good moment to reflect on the history of the Statue of Liberty – our nation’s most iconic and recognized statue and its intersections with our current national challenges and the work of UnidosNow. As documented in this 2019 Washington Post article, the Statue of Liberty was originally conceived in 1865 to celebrate freed slaves, not immigrants. The plaque with Emma Lazarus’ poem — “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — was not added to the base until 1903, not too far from the broken shackles of slavery that lie at Lady Liberty’s feet, which we rarely see included in images of her. The same French benefactors that beat the bushes to raise money to make the statue were also eagerly raising money to support recently freed slaves, who had been set forth into a land without a penny in their pocket, much less any benevolent aid organizations to help them adjust to such a radically different life.

African slaves were immigrants not of choice to this ‘land of liberty’ but by brutal force. For their captors, they weren’t even human – rather, they were chattel or property; 3/5ths of a human being according to our Constitution published 13 years after July 4, 1776. Yet in many ways, the Lazarus’ poem applies as much to the descendants of slaves as it does to today’s immigrant community – that particular line beneath the statue, yearning to breathe free, so horrifically and literally present in George Floyd’s final, repeated words “I can’t breathe.”

Amidst these uncertain and tumultuous times, there is a latent sadness many of us share with how our Nation’s ideals continue to be elusive, if not an outright scam for so many of our fellow citizens of color. Maybe this was best encapsulated on July 4, 1936, when President Franklin Roosevelt honestly reflected on our nation’s Founding Fathers during an Independence Day celebration at Monticello, the former slave plantation of Declaration of Independence author and President Thomas Jefferson. “Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be,” he said.

During the recent 2020 Giving Challenge, UnidosNow was able to raise an incredible $282,000 that now supports over 400 of the region’s most vulnerable immigrant families to bridge our current crisis. It is with utmost gratitude and appreciation that so many individuals, families and organizations supported us in this effort to build and make things as they ought to be in our community today.

Our shared work to continue to call into being the promise of our nation that was laid out on July 4, 1776, remains, however, and will go far beyond our passive philanthropic acts. To be successful will require bold, transformative acts at all levels of government that as citizens of this nation, we are obligated to stand and vocally support. This would be true patriotism worthy of celebration in 21st Century America.   

Kelly Kirschner is co-founder and Board Chair of UnidosNow.org. He works as Vice President and Dean of Executive & Continuing Education at Eckerd College.  

« View The Saturday Jul 4, 2020 SRQ Daily Edition
« Back To SRQ Daily Archive

Read More

Unconditional Surrender’s Mixed Signals

Unconditional Surrender’s Mixed Signals

Kelly Franklin | Jul 25, 2020

Make Sure Voters Run The City

Make Sure Voters Run The City

Mollie C. Cardamone | Jul 25, 2020

Sailor Statue Honors Those Who Served

Sailor Statue Honors Those Who Served

Jul 18, 2020

Adjusting To The New Normal

Adjusting To The New Normal

Jacob Ogles | Jun 27, 2020