Thursday, June 26, 2008

Give me your tired, your poor...

The Boston Globe is reporting that the Armenian Heritage Foundation has "cleared a major hurdle" in its effort to have a memorial on the Rose Kennedy Greenway to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide which occurred just after the first World War and resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

When the memorial was originally proposed by the Armenian Heritage Foundation, there was nearly universal push-back out of concern that every block on the greenway would result in a different memorial. However, the proposed memorial will also commemorate Boston as a city with a proud history of offering "hope and refuge for immigrants seeking to begin new lives".

After reading the article in today's Boston Globe, I'm interested to see the monument in person. Apparently the 12-sided geometrical sculpture is expected to open in the summer of 2009 and is being constructed in such a way that it will be able to be reconfigured each year to symbolize how immigrant communities continue to reshape our city and country.

I like the dual role of the memorial as both a tribute to immigrants and a somber reminder to those killed in a horrible genocide. The American public is very xenophobic at the moment and the debate about illegal immigration has shown an ugly and often racist streak that is not willing to acknowledge the reality of the situation or identify a realistic solution to the problem. This proposed monument embodies what I think we as Americans meant when we installed the plaque on the Statue of Liberty which says:

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.

I think that when a country allows itself to be ruled by fear, the results can be dangerous. I would not suggest that the United States would allow a genocide to result because of our current problems with immigrants and really all things pertaining to foreigners, but such horrible moments in human history can only come about when there is a deep distrust of "others". History is riddled with these lessons and we can look to the Nazi's in Germany looking to keep a 'pure' race (whatever that means), the horrible tragedies in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, or more recently the tragedies that continue in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

I know how great my country can be when we are at our best. I feel like Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt's quote "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" rings very true in the United States today. Although FDR was addressing the problems Americans were facing with the Great Depression, I think that the American public has been terrorized through half-truths and uncorroborated threats from the Bush administration into distrusting the rest of the world. So it is with anticipation that I wait for the new Armenian Genocide Memorial, because even if our society is not living up to our ideals, this memorial much like the Statue of Liberty will be tangible evidence of ideals Americans have upheld in the past and will hopefully strive to attain in our near future.

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