July 2015 • Volume 103 • Number 7 • Page 10
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America, the Immigrant’s Dream
America is a place where a 14-year-old from Sicily has the freedom and opportunity to prosper.
"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!"
This quote appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and it's the most famous part of a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus (1849-1887).
The poem's title is The New Colossus and, along with the first two lines of the poem, refers to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The poem talks about the millions of immigrants who came to the United States, many of them through Ellis Island at the port of New York, where the Statue of Liberty stands.
John T. Cunningham writes that the Statue of Liberty, opened in 1886, was not "conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the torch and the shining face."
According to Paul Ausier, "the poem The New Colossus, which was affixed to the inner wall of the pedestal in 1903, reinvented the statue's purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world" as they came to America full of hope and dreams.
I am an immigrant, having come to this country in 1964 at the age of 14, along with my mother and two younger brothers. We did not come to America by way of ship passage to New York, gazing at the "welcoming mother" as we have seen in so many movies and TV commercials. We did not have to stand in long lines on Ellis Island, waiting to be inspected and, hopefully, approved for entry into this land where the streets are paved with gold.
We did not do that because my mother was afraid that if she booked passage on a transatlantic ship (which would have taken about five days to reach America), there was a good chance my little brother, then three and a half, would somehow fall into the ocean.
Instead, she bought four tickets on an Alitalia Airlines Boeing 707. About 14 hours after leaving Palermo, Sicily, we landed at O'Hare Airport on a warm and sticky day on July 24, 1964. My little brother managed not to fall out of the airplane and the four of us arrived safe and sound in the country that would be our new home.
Though my mother was not "yearning to breathe free" - nor "homeless," nor "tempest-tossed" - she had little money and few resources. All she brought from Sicily was contained in two small steamer trunks. But she had hope for a new and better life, and therefore, so did my brothers and I.
Her reason for taking her children away from the only home they had known in their short lives was that her 42-year-old husband, our father, had tragically died in an accident 10 months earlier. She knew that if she stayed in Sicily she could not have taken care of us on her own. She knew that culturally she would have limited options as a woman and, therefore, would have had to depend on others to care for us. My mother knew that in America, a woman with children and no husband could raise a young family of three children. She knew that, and she had hope for our future.
Even though my mother did not have a driver's license or formal education (she had left school shortly after third grade to help her parents raise her seven younger siblings), she had hope and she knew that America would provide her the opportunity and freedom to attain her dreams.
Her hopes and dreams were realized, as were those of millions who came to this land as immigrants, whether they passed by the Statue of Liberty or journeyed some other way. By coming to America, my mother was able to earn a living, raise her children, and be independent.
Why do I tell you this in my first president's page, when perhaps I should be telling you about the initiatives for my year as president of what I consider one of the best bar associations in the country?
I tell you because I would not have been able to write these words without your support, your encouragement, your friendship, and your confidence in me to be your president. And I tell you because, as an immigrant, I want to publicly thank this great country for welcoming and accepting my mother and her three children 50 years ago, and for allowing us to earn money and become educated. Most importantly, I want to give thanks that my family could experience the American dream.
As the renowned American writer Don DeLillo said, "America was and is the immigrant's dream." He is absolutely correct. America is a dream for immigrants that can come true, as it did for my family, and I and we give thanks for that.
It is a privilege and an honor to serve as the 139th President of the Illinois State Bar Association. It is the first legal organization I joined when I became a lawyer in 1982 and I believe today more than ever it is one of the best state bar associations in the United States and a great asset to the Illinois legal community.
Many presidents have gone before me and I am proud to have worked with and gotten to know several quite well over the past 32 years. With the leadership and dedication of those past presidents, and of the officers, Board of Governors, section council leaders, other engaged members, and the ISBA staff, our organization continues to address the needs of Illinois lawyers and judges and helps them stay relevant in ever-changing times.
As we look forward to the year ahead, I am excited by the opportunity to build on the programs of the past, create new ones for the future, and address trends that threaten our profession. Meeting these challenges must continue to be our mission. In my next president's page I will outline the initiatives I intend to pursue during my year. I am humbly grateful for the opportunity to serve and look forward to a great year ahead. Thank you!