Dear Emma Lazarus,
When I first started writing this letter, I really had no idea who it was addressed to. I have read and loved everything I could get my hands on for as long as I can remember, so trying to narrow down a favorite to just one was difficult to say the least.
When I began, I honestly thought that it would be addressed to Jane Austen, Sophie Kinsella, or some frilly romanticist who writes the stories that every girl hopes will become her reality. As I began to think about just what words had affected me the most, I found that they were yours. Let me tell you how your poem New Colossus has affected me.
When I was in elementary school, I learned firsthand just how catty and mean girls can be. In about second grade, for whatever reason I became the victim of girls whom I had once considered my closest friends. I remember at one point being told that I could not sit with my friends at lunch because I wore my brother's hand-me down-jeans and not the trendy flared-style that were gracing the legs of the other third grade girls. Being only nine, I wondered what I had done to deserve this kind of treatment. Surely it wasn't just about the clothes I wore. I was alone, confused and hurt, left wondering how my own friends could be so cruel. I remained at the bottom of the pecking order until about 6th grade. Once I got into middle school, I began branching out. I became more social, met new people and broke away from the vulnerable little girl who was picked on.
In 7th grade I met Courtney Welton. Courtney was a pigeon toed, buck toothed girl with acne and a passion for anime novels. Naturally, she was the perfect target for the ruthless jokes of middle school girls. While I hated seeing her tormented (as I had experienced the pain firsthand), I couldn't quite bring myself to stand up for her. It was probably because I was so glad that I wasn't the one being teased. It wasn't until one day in Social Studies that I finally saw the light.
As part of a unit on Ellis Island, we were required to read your poem, "New Colossus.”
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Reading these words, I had an epiphany of sorts. America is about acceptance, about giving the hurting, poor and outcast a place to call their home. Many people traveled to America in search of a place to call their own. They wanted freedom, acceptance and pride, the very things that had been taken away from me each time I was teased, and the same things that were now being taken away from Courtney. Who was I to deny Courtney a helping hand? A structure on which to stand?
Soon after that, I reached out to Courtney. I sat with her at lunch. I asked her to work on a school project with me. We became friends, and then best friends, and then more like sisters. To this day I consider her my best and most loyal friend. In all honesty, I owe it all to you. If you hadn't reminded me that we all deserve a shelter form the cold winds that life tends to blow our way. And that if I had the chance, it was my duty as an American to be that shelter for someone else.
So thank you Emma Lazarus. Thank you for helping me realize what it truly means to be an American, and for helping me make one of the best friends I will ever have.