Two Notable Immigrants
“Give me your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” Many believe this to be the beginning of an inscription when it really is the ending. A sonnet written by Emma Lazarus to raise money to pay for the base of the Statue of Liberty, the sonnet declares the statue to be the Mother of Exiles. This statue is as American as the flag and both the poetess and the women whom we will discuss today are shining examples of what this country has stood for throughout its history.
Emma Lazarus was a Jewish poet born in New York City. While some of her ancestors were from Germany, most came from Portugal, being some of the very first Jewish immigrants in the New World long before the American Revolution. They came as many did seeking religious freedom and the chance to live their faith. Her first book was published while she was in her mid-teenage years. Lazarus was a prolific writer in her thirty-eight years on earth. Her most notable series of articles was that entitled “An Epistle to the Hebrews” (The American Hebrew, November 10, 1882 – February 24, 1883). It might seem as it was published more recently since in it she discussed the Jewish problems of the day, urged a technical and a Jewish education for Jews, and ranged herself among the advocates of an independent Jewish nationality and of Jewish repatriation in Palestine.
Today is known in the United States of American as Independence Day, being the Fourth of July. While the current debate centers on the right of people to emigrate, it should be noted that all humans living on the North American continent can trace their ancestry to immigrants. Whether those known as American Indians, colonists, or refugees, everyone came from somewhere else on the globe before living here. The settlement of this area is relatively new compared to the bones of those discovered in the Asian and European continents. The first human settlement dates back to 9000 B.C. in Estonia and yet, science is convinced the history of man is much older.
Marie Jana Korbelová came to the USA at the age of eleven. Her father was a diplomat in their native Czechoslovakia and the family settled in Denver. At the age of twenty she became a U.S. citizen in 1957. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 and earned a PhD from Columbia University in 1975, writing her thesis on the Prague Spring. She worked as an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie before taking a position under Zbigniew Brzezinski on the National Security Council. She served in that position until the end of President Jimmy Carter’s lone term.
After leaving the National Security Council, Albright joined the academic staff of Georgetown University and advised Democratic candidates regarding foreign policy. After Clinton’s victory in the 1992 presidential election, she helped assemble Clinton’s National Security Council. In 1993, Clinton appointed her to the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She held that position until 1997, when she succeeded Warren Christopher as Secretary of State. She served as Secretary of State until Clinton left office in 2001.
The first female ambassador, Madeleine Albright as Maria is now known, is a prime example of the determination many immigrants bring with them to this new home of theirs. At the time of her birth, her father was serving as press-attaché at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Belgrade. However, the signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938 and the disintegration of Czechoslovakia at the hands of Adolf Hitler forced the family into exile because of their links with Beneš. In 1941, Josef and Anna had converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Madeleine was raised in Roman Catholicism and spent the years of World War II in Great Britain, never knowing many of her family perished in the Holocaust.
Madeleine Albright’s first view of the United States was the Statue of Liberty as the family landed at Ellis Island. Requesting asylum, the family moved first to Long Island and the Colorado. Albright is now an Episcopalian. Further example of the religious freedoms promised and cherished by the US Constitution. Her accomplishments were not without hard work but she is a great example of what someone can do if they apply themselves, regardless of where they were born.
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” Those who expected the first female ambassador from the USA to be docile were very surprised with the pint size, ball of energy that is Madeleine Albright. “We might have the right intentions, but instead of acting, we decide to wait. We keep waiting until we run out of “untils”. Then it is too late.”
The future is ours to write and we need to embrace all of humanity in order to do so successfully. The best celebration of any country’s Independence Day is a dedicated effort to move forward with peace and diplomacy for all. “We have a responsibility in our time, as others have had in theirs, not to be prisoners of history but to shape history.” These words of Madeleine Albright fit perfectly with the words of Emma Lazarus that we should extend to all a “world-wide welcome”. It is, after all, the reason we sought to be independent.