America – the land of equal opportunity?


In a land stolen from its’ natives, built on the backs of enslaved Africans, for the advancement of the European colonizers’, all should be welcomed here in this land of the ‘free’, right? No? Not quite? Well that’s what America promises to the millions of immigrants who voyage to the United States in search of opportunity. Socially and politically fed up with the aspects of their native countries, immigrants are in for a rude awakening as they enter the ‘golden gates’ of America. But make no worries, they’ve been subliminally warned, prepped by Emma Lazarus’ Petrarchan sonnet, The New Colossus.  


Well not technically. That introduction there was kind of a stretch – but one made based on the contemporary relevance of Lazarus’ sonnet. I believe that the actual meaning of Lazarus’ sonnet is up for debate and given the actual precarious relationship between the United States and the racially, culturally, and ethnically divergent, one could interpret the actual meaning of Lazarus’ piece. Lazarus’ piece is not only one of its time, but apart of our time today as well.  



“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (lines 10-14). Originally, these lines were interpreted to be accepting of immigrants from all specs of life – varying in cultures, ethnicities, race and socioeconomic levels. America was portrayed as a nation that indiscriminately welcomed every hard working being into this ‘glorious’ place. Lazarus symbolized the entrance into the U.S as a ‘golden door’, as if life in America for ALL is anywhere close to being heaven-like. Completely ignoring the fatal relationships between Europeans and ‘others’ in America. This sonnet depicting hope for all immigrants in America has caused controversy in today’s time, given the presidency of Donald Trump and his blatant disapproval and disregard of immigrants. 




The contemporary recontextualization of this piece is that America is indeed not a place for ALL immigrants. Since the beginning of America as a nation, European colonists have exploited people with cultural and ethnic differences which were deemed inferior for they didn’t coincide with theirs. From the slaughtering of America natives  to the enslavement of Africans off of Africa’s Western Coast, America has a history of abusing the people they’ve viewed as “different”. The realization that America is indeed not a place welcoming of immigrants as the Statue of Liberty represents can be seen in Donald Trump’s recent comments on immigrants, in addition to his congressional proposal to construct an $18 billion dollar border wall to keep all Mexicans from obtaining illegal entrance into the U.S.    





 When the leader of the free world was asked on his stance on providing asylum to immigrants here in America, from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries, he responded: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers. With a preference for ‘people from Norway’, it is quite obvious that all immigrants aren’t welcomed here in America. Following Trump’s remarks, contemporary America has resurfaced and recontextualized Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus to simply interpret who truly is welcomed and accepted into this country, and who is not.




Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus.” Historic American Documents. Lit2Go Edition. 1883. Web. <>. February 05, 2018.

“Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries”: The Washington Post: Democracy Dies in Darkness, 2018.

“Trump asks for $33B for border, including $18B for wall”. CNN: Politics. 2018.




One thought on “America – the land of equal opportunity?

  1. I entirely agree about your point that the Americans have always been more hesitant (to put it nicely) of immigrants of non-European descent. Although I believe this extends to Lazarus’s time as well. When you say that the speaking lines of the Statue is Lazarus’s poem were originally taken to mean “accepting of immigrants from all specs of life”, even if that was Lazarus’s meaning, I don’t believe the people of the time necessarily took it that way.

    Just one year prior the completion of the poem, the U.S. Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act was appealed until China became allies with the U.S. against Japan in World War II. A couple years after the publication of the poem, Africa was divided in a wave of New Imperialism. I don’t think it’s possible to know if Lazarus meant anything other than white immigrants, or if the people reading and believing her poem took those words that became so associated with the the Statue of Liberty and America as a whole meant anything but Europeans.

    I would argue that the words mean more acceptance today than they did even then, though I’m sure they were also radical in their time. Even if the current administration is prone to racist and isolationist attitudes, most people take the words at the feet of the Statue to mean we as a nation of immigrants should accept all who come to our shores — even if many have limits on how easily they believe we should accept them.

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