The Casual Blog

Tag: Jersey City

Visiting Lady Liberty, welcomer of immigrants

The Statue of Liberty, dedicated 1866

We’ve established a temporary base in Jersey City in an Airbnb near our new granddaughter, and are starting to feel less like aliens.  Traffic is more intense than we’re used to, and people beep their horns a lot more, but it has its good points.  One of those is Liberty Park, which is about a mile from us, and has a great view across the harbor of lower Manhattan and  the back of the Statue of Liberty.

Lower Manhattan from Ellis Island

Despite years of living in and visiting New York City, we’d never taken the ferry out to visit Lady Liberty or Ellis Island.  We picked a clear, mild day last week, bought tickets, waited on line, cleared security (very like an airport), and set sail.  There was a sweet breeze, and fluffy clouds.

Immigration to the U.S. peaked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Ellis Island was the primary intake spot.  Millions of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere went through its procedures and began new lives in the states.  The large complex of buildings has been partially restored to serve as the National Museum of Immigration.  

Ellis Island

It was moving to be where so many brave and hopeful people had landed with their dreams.  We also learned a lot from the exhibits about the various national groups who eventually became the people of the United States.

Most of the exhibits required some reading, but it was worth it.  The curators had made a real effort to give the context of some of the sad realities of our past, including slavery, war with native peoples, and exploitation of workers.  We also learned about some of the desperate conditions that led millions of Europeans and others to take their chances in America, including crop failures, discrimination, and overpopulation.

At the same time, there were great success stories, as many immigrants prospered and built a foundation for our prosperity.  We were surprised to learn that the largest single group of immigrants prior to 1900 was Germans, followed by Irish. The people known as Pennsylvania Dutch were not Dutch, but rather Deutsch (German).  The melting pot apparently melted some letters.

Part of the story of American immigration, in addition to the acceptance and assimilation of millions of immigrants, was constant hostility to immigration.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, large political movements organized around the idea that immigrants were threatening to destroy existing American culture.  

Panic over a takeover by people with different complexions, languages, and customs, is of course very much with us today.  That sort of fear seems to be partly responsible for the Trumpist movement.  It was reassuring, in a way, to find that this mass delusion has been around in some form for the last couple of centuries.  We got through it then, so perhaps we can do so now.

My main impression of the Statue of Liberty was:  she’s big!  From base to the tip of her torch, 305  feet.  I also learned why she’s green:  her copper layer reacted with oxygen and other chemicals in the air, and the resulting oxidation forms a green patina.  

Her island had some nice trees and pleasant sidewalks, but otherwise she looked as expected.  Even though she’s been a bit over exposed, it was good to see her, and to keep hoping we can hold on to the values of freedom and compassion that she symbolizes. 

Augusta, our new granddaughter (a first!)

Hail Augusta!  Our first grandchild, Augusta Quinn Tiller-DePew, was born this week, amid great excitement.    

People say that all newborns look the same, and I’ve even said such things myself.  But I’ve changed my view.  Little Augusta is especially beautiful, and also talented.  She already knows how to eat, sleep, and wiggle.  Her heart, lungs, colon, kidneys, and other systems and subsystems clearly know what they need to do, and they’re all hard at work.  And she knows how to let everyone know when there’s something she doesn’t like — she cries!   

Sally and I drove up to Jersey City to greet the new arrival and try to be helpful.  Holding her for the first time was wonderful.  I felt hopeful for the future.  It also made me think a bit about our responsibility to possible future generations.    

When I was in Alaska recently, I talked with a nice woman whose grown children had vowed not to have children, because of concerns that the world was already too awful a place for a new child, and more people would just make it worse.  I can understand and even respect this stern view.  But I would argue for another position.

The world has no shortage of horrors, but it’s still possible to find a lot of beauty and joy.  It all may end badly, with horrific climate change,  nuclear apocalypse, or a giant asteroid, but not necessarily.  Human activity accounts for a lot of our dire situation, but that also means there’s a possibility that humans will work out rescue plans.  At any rate, we’d better give it a shot.

I was cheered this week to learn that a number of megarich people are joining Jeff Bezos to dedicate a very large sum ($5 billion) to an effort to save 30 percent of the earth’s natural areas and prevent the extinction of a large number of species.  As the latest IPCC report reminded us again a few weeks back, our climate crisis requires immediate action, and this message is starting to resonate.

This could be the beginning!  We may be on the verge of new ways of understanding ourselves, our relationships, and our environment.  Some of the problems that have seemed intractable have to do with the way we were educated, and specifically with the way we were trained to think about our relations to each other and nature.  Just seeing some new perspectives could make our hard problems easier to solve.  

One example, which I mentioned in my post last week, is how we’ve been trained to think about animals as, if not dangerous, always inferior and morally insignificant.  Maybe we’ll try understanding them better, dialing down the fear and cultivating respect for them and their communities.  It would surely change us for the better.

Similarly, we’ve long been schooled in questionable assumptions about human nature, which make it difficult for us to question social relations based on greed and violence.  We even doubt our own eyes when we happen to notice successful communities based on empathy, peaceful cooperation and loving support.  With a bit of effort, we may find more such relationships, and learn to cultivate still more.

Changing our thinking at this level may sound impossible, but it’s not.  Some people are definitely there already, and their numbers seem to be growing.