On my one and only visit to New York City in March 2004, two experiences left one lasting impression—the incongruity of the “American Dream” and the reality of US immigration policies.
Our first day in the city began in Lower Manhattan where we visited what had once been the site of the World Trade Center. At the time, 9/11 recovery efforts were complete but the memorial had not been built; therefore I chose to photograph the empty space where the twin towers had once been from St. Paul’s churchyard. I am not a professional photographer and I had a very unsophisticated camera therefore I did not expect to capture the sense of loss I felt standing in the shadows among the grave sites looking towards what had once been home to Morgan Stanley, the company I worked for from 1988 until 1998 when I managed a portfolio of commercial real estate in Southern California. But I took the photograph anyway; that was all I could do. My dream of one day meeting the wonderful people I worked with from afar had died, as I no longer knew how to find them. All I could do was hope Sherri, our hardworking, kind accountant; Steve, my amazing boss; and Joann, his administrative assistant, survived the horrible tragedy when terrorists flew planes into the buildings killing over two thousand people.
On our second day we visited the Statue of Liberty, which we could only view from outside due to heightened security measures. As we made our way around the lower pedestal, we stopped to read the plaque with Emma Lazarus’ poem, words I had not read since grammar school:
“. . . 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!”
The situational irony hit with heart wrenching force! The words written in 1883 certainly did not reflect the current mood in the nation when it came to immigration. In fact since 9/11 there had been a growing sense of suspicion and hatred towards immigrants, despite the fact that Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations had been responsible for the devastation—not immigrants, which are persons who have come to live permanently in the United States. Standing there in front of the plaque I felt the disparity between the rhetoric about the “American Dream” reflected in Lazarus’ poem and the reality of our country’s mood, a disparity that was much greater than the two plus miles between where the World Trade Center once stood and the Statue of Liberty—a distance that sadly has only grown since I made that trip.