“Merica ” is Miss Liberty

The Statue of Liberty – which has always been called Miss Liberty – was donated to the United States by France as a sign of friendship, and was closely linked to the phenomenon of emigration only after Emma Lazarus’s verses had been carved on the pedestal where the statue stands: “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp! ( ... ) 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 beautiful lady seemed to be as great as America, and as the emigrants’ dreams of “making it to la Merica”. Actually, on arrival in the port of New York, after staring with due amazement at the imposing lady, emigrants were disembarked and forced to Ellis Island, where a long series of regulations meant a drastic selection. People were rejected for illness, for extreme poverty, for being too young or too old, as well as for their status (women and orphans who did not have someone already in the U.S.A. who could assist them and help them find a job).

Yet, in the imagination of many emigrants, the Statue of Liberty became America with all its contradictions. Not only did they find out that roads were not paved with gold, but they also realised that it would be their job to build them.

And their hope of living in equality and freedom would soon fade away.