Friday, September 17, 2010

Bonus Track: "Lady Liberty"

My piece, "Lady Liberty" about our nation's great landmark, was chosen as an honorable mention for Jo Prescott's "I Dare You" blog this week. Heather Fitzpatrick is the guest challenger this week, and I was honored to be listed on the same page as the winner, Erica Bolton. Make sure you check out her piece, "Invisible Landmarks of Love" if you haven't already!

Here is my interpretation of the dare. It was inspired by the recent anniversaries of tragedies in American history and both the intolerance and compassion I have witnessed in the media and our everyday lives.

“Lady Liberty”
By: Jen Schneider

“Give me your tired, your poor. . .”

(November 12, 1886)

This was America. This was the country that would help my family escape the poverty that began decades prior in Ireland with the potato famine.

           Her torch beckoned me to come ashore. “Look, Michael! It’s Lady Liberty, they call her,” my best friend, Shawn O’Malley, gazed with hopeful eyes at the future that awaited us in the land of the free.

          “America,” I said the word as though I was speaking it for the first time. I was never a man of tears, but I shed a few that day. I wasn’t ashamed to tell my grandchildren this years later when I recounted my trip to Ellis Island into the country that would change our lives forever.

         “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

(September 15, 1963)

I was livin’ just outside of Harlem. Dr. King had just given his “I Have a Dream” speech, and my wife Darla and I listened to it on the radio at the Woolworth’s just outside of town. When Darla heard about a job cleanin’ apartments in the city where you could see that lady statue from the windows, we done left my sister and her babies behind in ‘Bama. Things were still tough in the North, but I couldn’t believe what I heard on the radio on that day.

The KKK gone and put a bomb in that church in Birmingham, Alabama, killed four little girls doin’ it too. On August 28, I heard Dr. King talk about liberty and justice and judging not on the color of skin but the content of our character, and less than a month later, I turned on the radio and heard Mrs. McNair crying cause her baby done get killed. Four little girls dead because their skin was colored.

“Send these — the homeless, tempest-tossed — to me;
I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.”

(September 11, 2010)

It’s been nine years since the terrorists attacked my beloved country, and the site where my former work place stood is still known as Ground Zero. When I see it, I am filled with grief. Every day I thank Allah that I escaped, but I cry for the hate, the ignorance, and the pain.

They want to build a mosque there. Many question the motives of those behind it; I wouldn’t attend anyway. I go to services at the same place I have since I was born in New York City, as a citizen of the United States. I remember the day my parents became citizens. We went to the Statue of Liberty and had our picture taken. My father read the poem inscribed on the front, and said, “Zahra, this is why I came here: to make a life for my family.”

Now I look out my window and think about the life I have made for myself and how things have changed. Before 9/11, I had the highest profile clients in my corporate law firm. My colleagues are understanding, but they know that we have lost business from several companies because they “don’t want a Muslim representing them.”

My emotions go from anger to sadness when I think about what my religion and what this country both mean to me. Islam is a peaceful religion at its core. Just like any religion, there are extremists who claim Allah’s will and the teachings of the Qur’an direct them to perform these unthinkable acts. I, an well-established woman who was born on US soil, have been spit on and cursed at when I have defended my faith.

I look at Lady Liberty’s lamp, and I know for certain that this is a country of acceptance and openness. Hate has clouded its once open shores. I hope that my children with see a day when this fear will make way for clarity and tolerance.

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