The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus Essay Example
In the poem “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus showcases America as a nation full of opportunities and freedom for those seeking a chance at a better life. Her depiction of the Statue of Liberty is [probably] meant to represent Americans as warm, welcoming people who embrace hardworking individuals in need of assistance. However, while America somewhat tries to be accepting of them, immigrants and refugees still encounter numerous hardships integrating themselves to meet the various societal expectations in America.
In her poem, Emma Lazarus claims that when a person steps through “the golden door” of America, they will be met with freedom and opportunity. She emphasizes how any individual will be met with open arms through her depiction of the Statue of Liberty, whose “beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome” (line 6). While it may be true that the United States will accept those looking for a better place to stay, there are still many unnecessary obstacles that immigrants and refugees must face, such as cultural differences and oppression. Such complications deter many immigrants and refugees from the success they thought they would get in America and give American-born citizens an advantage, which completely defies the basis of the American dream. In addition, Lazarus tries to build on the idea that people can get a better life in America when she says that “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe” (line 11) are all welcomed. However, the reality many immigrants and refugees face is very poor living and working conditions as many Americans would not hesitate to take advantage of a person in desperate need of money. Most will end up just as tired and poor as they were back in their homeland despite America’s promise of a better life.
Langston Hughes supports the idea that one is not guaranteed a better life in America through his poem “Let America be America Again,” where he insinuates that the American dream is not a reality due to the oppression many people face in America. The speaker of the poem identifies with various minority groups and the abuse they have suffered from, claiming to seek a better life but only finding the “same old [...] plan [...] of mighty crush the weak” (line 23-24). The phrase ‘All men are created equal’ is not applicable to the United States as the wealthy, or the mighty, generally have a much easier time achieving the American dream compared to the economically disadvantaged, or the weak. Not only do they have an easier time achieving the American dream, but the rich are also quick to take advantage of the poor to advance their own selfish desires. In the end, though, a good amount of members from both the upper and lower class resort to unethical actions such as “graft, [...] stealth, and lies” (line 81) for their own personal gain. People of the lower class are forced to perform such actions because of the unjust social hierarchy in America, while people of the higher class simply do it because they want to. Forced or not, however, their actions paint America as a greed-driven nation, which is far from the noble picture many have painted America to be. People come to America expecting as much freedom and opportunity as the next person, but the reality is being exploited by rich Americans through harsh working conditions and long hours for extremely low wages.
Another obstacle many people face when they walk through the “golden door” of America is choosing whether to preserve their cultures or traditions or to abandon them and adapt to American culture. The parents in Pat Mora’s “Immigrants” chose the latter, “wrap[ping] their babies in the American flag” (line 1) instead of the customs they lived their whole lives with. The parents conform to the societal expectations of America, giving their children generic American names and food in hopes that it will help their children gain success. In the process, however, the children never get to interact with their parents’ culture and traditions, and the parents lose their identity. In addition, the way the parents try to integrate their children into mainstream American society seems very superficial, showing that they are doing it because they believe that is the best course of action instead of doing it out of patriotism. They worry more about whether or not society will accept their “fine american boy, [their] fine american girl” (line 14) than preserving and passing down their traditions and culture. The more ‘american’ a person is, the better chance they have at achieving a successful life, showing how materialistic the nation has become, where Americans decide on an individual’s worth based on how similar that person is to them. Like Langston Hughes’ “Let America be America Again,” Pat Mora emphasizes that America is an unfair nation where the American dream is more easily attainable by those with specific qualities. Similar to how the wealthy have an advantage over the poor, those assimilated into American culture have an advantage over those who are not.
While many immigrants and refugees go to great lengths to adjust to American customs, they may, at times, find themselves feeling alienated from being surrounded by people of a different culture. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “The Latin Deli” tells the story of a store owner who attracts a variety of customers to her store because they find her and her store as a source of connection to their homeland. The speaker notes that many of the items in the store do not have the best quality or are too expensive, but many customers still come because they “[want] the comfort of spoken Spanish” (line 18). Those that visit the store are of different nationalities, but the common trait they all share is that they feel homesick. To try to counter this, they interact with the store owner, who speaks the same language, and buy items from the store that remind them of their former home. However, the fact that these immigrants are able to find comfort in the woman and her store just because of a few similarities shows how alienated they feel. Being aware of this, the store owner tries her best to make her customers feel at home, “conjuring [...] products from places that [...] exist only in their hearts” (line 36). She listens to them talk about their dreams and homeland and acts as a mother figure in an attempt to act as a connection between her customers and their homeland. Like her customers, she herself may feel disconnected from her homeland, which she tries to resolve by interacting with her customers. However, the feelings of comfort that are a result of these interactions are only temporary, and the store owner and her customers will continue to feel alienated and must depend on each other as a source of comfort.
On the other hand, there are many people who insist on upholding their culture and identities instead of conforming to American ones, which can cause conflict in their own families. In Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club,” the Chinese immigrant mothers have trouble adapting to American customs, which creates a strained relationship with their American-born daughters. Throughout the novel, the mothers try to impose their Chinese traditions and cultures into their daughters, out of fear that “[...] all the truths and hopes they have brought to America” (Tan, 17) will be neglected by their daughters and future generations. However, the daughters misunderstand this as their mothers simply being controlling figures who want their daughters to reject their American identity and fully embrace their Chinese identity, to which the daughters respond with defiance and hostility. Growing up, the daughters never had a healthy relationship with their mothers because of their cultural differences, and it is not until they are middle-aged that they start to recognize the obstacles their mothers went through to try to preserve their Chinese culture and traditions. Even then, the daughters are still wary of their mothers’ “uncanny ability to find [their] weakest spots” (page 103). Every time the mothers make note of their daughters’ lifestyle, the daughters mistake it as criticism, which furthers the strain on their relationship. The daughters are nervous to show their mothers their jobs, houses, and husbands because they believe their mothers will verbally abuse them when the mothers are genuinely just trying to express themselves. Many others go through the same situation because of how America idolizes American culture over foreign cultures.
While it may be true that most, if not all, people are welcomed in America, the nation does not live up to its promise of freedom and opportunities for those who walk through the “golden door.” Many face cultural differences and oppression in their journey for a more successful life, which the majority are not able to complete in their lifetime. Of course, success does not come without obstacles, but it shows how America is not as wonderful as people make it to be.