I am not sure that I remember the first trip that I made with my father. I do remember that we traveled to Los Angeles to China Town, we went to Seattle to China Town, we went to San Francisco to, you guessed it, China Town. To be honest they all looked alike, the streets, the store fronts, the menus and the shops. We also traveled to Hong Kong and Beijing. China was where my father was from before he immigrated in 1911 as a child. One early trip in my younger years that I remember the most was when my father first took me to New York City. I was probably around 7 years old. I don’t remember many of the details to be honest, after all, that was a hundred years ago.
The things I do remember are as vivid to me today as they were at the time, like the enormity of the buildings and how close together everything was. Of course I remember the Statue of Liberty. My father pointed out Ellis Island to me, telling me about how many immigrants from all around the world had entered the United States through these very channels. Upon arrival in New York City, ships would dock at the Hudson or East River piers. First and second class passengers would disembark, pass through Customs at the piers and were free to enter the United States. Steerage and third class passengers were transported from the pier by ferry or barge to Ellis Island where everyone would undergo a medical and legal inspection.
The story of the Statue of Liberty and her island has been one of change. With the placing of “The New Colossus” and a plaque on the pedestal in 1903, Lady Liberty’s significance grew as an inspiration to immigrants who sailed past her on their way to America. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The Statue was named “Liberty Enlightening the World.”
A lifetime later, literally my father’s lifetime, and half of mine, the time had come to bring our own son to New York City. For me this trip was more than a vacation, it was reliving a memory and bringing my own father close to my heart again. I knew that our son Tino would create his own memories in the Big Apple. What would stand out most to him would be shaped by a more modern time and a more modern age of liberty. In fact, the weekend we arrived in NYC was PRIDE weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of World Pride.
The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against police raids that had happened regularly terrorizing patrons of gay establishments. After a raid on the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, the people of the neighborhood decided they had had enough and stood up to the police. That event is widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
50 years to the day later, my husband, myself and our son stepped off the plane in NYC, and went to Greenwich Village. Things are different now, the entire city from Times Square to the Upper West Side, were all adorned with rainbows, a symbol of inclusion and pride. For 30 days there were over 50 events with over 3 Million people gathering to acknowledge their liberty. We went to the park in Washington Square, where the first riots began and our son played in the children’s playground with other children from a variety families with dynamics like our own. We know that this was an eye opening experience for him and though he never said anything, we could see that he saw every family that was like ours.
We walked a lot in NYC as one does; in fact we averaged about 21K steps per day. But our son never walked, he skipped, he danced, he jumped, he spun in circles – he wore me out. But as I walked behind him I realized that a child who is oppressed does not skip.
About a week into our trip, we got a call from the acting coach at a camp our son was attending. A very large news media company was doing a story on the children being held in detainment centers in the United States. These children have been writing letters asking, begging for help and trying to tell the outside world their stories. The director of the news piece was looking for similar aged children to read the letters on camera as part of the documentary and asked if our son would participate.
My first thought was that we had not told our son of the horrific tragedy happening in our back yard. How could we? How could he possibly understand at 7 years old that children were being torn away from their families because they were seeking a life of freedom like my father and millions of others had. We agreed to do it and headed to a studio in Brooklyn. On the way I did my best to explain what was happening, but I knew he did not understand.
When we got to the studio he was handed a few letters to read, and began to practice them. “I am 5 years old and I am from Honduras, I was traveling with my father when he was suddenly taken away from me. I have been kept in a room with crying children and we are not allowed to play and there are no activities.” After reading the first letter, Valentino looked up at me and said, ‘Daddy this is horrible! Why is this happening to this boy? How can we help him?” I simply told him that he was doing was something that might help. While the taping was happening, I heard many letters from many children, each more upsetting and tragic than the first. Click here to watch the full video.
After this experience, I thought to myself, how do I show the Statue of Liberty to my 7 year old who had just read letters from children writing about the terrible events that happened to them when they came to America seeking liberty and tell him what the statue stands for?
In life, there are many times and ways that people try to take away your liberty and freedom to live and love, but only the enlightened will truly protect the pathway for freedom for the generations that follow. We have shared with him many times the necessity of inclusion, that no person, no child, should be separated, removed, excluded because of who they are, their abilities, or ethnicity. If my son grows up with one belief in his heart that he learned from me, then let it be this.
If the Statue of Liberty’s torch is a symbol of enlightenment, lighting the way to freedom and liberty, how could I reconcile to him what has been happening recently? I can only hope that the future brings a different direction for our country, one that has more compassion and empathy and that we live up to what the Statue of Liberty stands for: Liberty Enlightening the World.