Nearly twenty years ago I packed everything I owned into a little 1989 Chevrolet Cavalier and said good-bye to my family in Georgia. There were tears in my eyes as I looked in the rearview at Small Town, U.S.A and my stomach felt as if a gymnast had taken up residency. I was leaving everything I had ever known to be familiar.
I won’t go into the reasons why I had to move on, but I had five-hundred miles and eight hours in front of me to reach my destination. When I arrived at my new home in Florida, I parked my car under the Spanish moss draped oaks and walked past the bromeliads blooming phallic red and purple plumes along the path. A giant luminescent-green grasshopper and dozens of tiny yellow frogs greeted me at the door. The house was empty and the only sound came from a clock ticking on the wall. That sound would be my greatest comfort for the next three years.
I spent those three years writing poetry, painting pictures, and learning the computer. There was a huge void in my soul that has not entirely dissipated in all these twenty years. And yet, I thought of the immigrants who left behind their world in search of a better life worlds away and felt truly blessed. But my plight was trivial by comparison.
I had family here. I had a career that promised a means of self-support. I had shelter. I had food. And I didn’t need clothing; after all, my landing place was a nudist community. But it WAS as if I had dropped off the edge of the earth onto another planet.
We are all travelers. It’s not enough to think of our ancestors who came to this country in search of a better life. It’s not enough to think of our ancestors who slaved, and fought wars to secure their new homeland. We need to embrace those who seek refuge within our borders today. We share one world.
The Statue of Liberty is most often associated with immigration. Many did come through Ellis Island on their way here, and many of us, including my own children, would not be here today if that had not happened. It’s a symbol of hope and new found freedom.
There are others, though, who came on slave ships, crossed dangerous deserts, drifted through the perilous seas to make their way here. They weren’t promised freedom and were abused and mistreated. They labored and lobbied their way to freedom, and still do. They are us, too.
While I commend anyone for trying to access legal citizenship in this country, I recognize, also, how nearly impossible and time-consuming our bureaucracy has made the process. I have friends here and across the States who have been working for decades to achieve what we take for granted.
The hate spewing memes and posts circulating social media spitting bile at illegal aliens and undocumented workers make me ashamed to be an American. Talk of building walls, deporting all members of a religious faith, and killing women and children make me nauseous. And the comments under these posts make me cringe. Have we no social conscience? Have we really forgotten who we are?
There’s a man who sculpts statues that seem to make the Statue of Liberty such a small thing by comparison. His name is Bruno Catalano, and like the designer of the Statue of Liberty, he is a native of France. A fascinating series of sculptures called “Travelers” depict people setting out on their journey with suitcase in hand and the center of their bodies missing. It’s as if that hole is their lost self, and they’ve set out to rediscover it. I’d like to leave you with his images of who we are:
Images are from Bruno Catalano and you can see more of his work at this link.