. . . I'd like to suggest a little surgery that will make the symbol more appropriate today: Let's get rid of The Poem.
I'm talking about "Give me your tired, your poor . . . " -- that poem, "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, which sometimes seems to define us as a nation even more than Lady Liberty herself.
Inscribed on a small brass plaque mounted inside the statue's stone base, the poem is an appendix, added belatedly, and it can safely be removed, shrouded or at least marked with a big asterisk. We live in a different era of immigration, and the schmaltzy sonnet offers a dangerously distorted picture of the relationship between newcomers and their new land.
First, as to the contingency of the poem's inclusion on the Statue of Liberty, all I can say is: So what? The Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Continental Congress, at least acting as the committee as a whole, on July 2, but final voting and signing was delayed due to in-fighting among the delegates. So, is Independence Day really July 4th, or is it July 2nd? The colonials could have lost the war, and the Declaration would have been burned, its words a mere rumor 233 years later.
History is full of contingencies, which does not make their symbolic import any less meaningful for their being singular events that could have been otherwise.
We are a nation of immigrants, from the Spanish settlers from Florida to the west coast, to the French from the upper Mississippi through the northeast, to the English and Scots-Irish along the eastern seaboard - immigrants all. The various waves of "new" immigrants - Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Ukrainians, Chinese, Mexican and Central American, on and on - have added to the wealth of our culture, and the beautiful kaleidoscope that is the American public. For tens of thousands, the sight of the Statue in New York harbor was a sign they had made it from the shtetls Russian and Poland; the arbitrary and capricious rule of monarchs in Austria-Hungary; the chaos of anarchy on the Italian peninsula and the misnamed "Holy Roman Empire". Whatever else their reasons may have been for coming here, they came to breathe a little easier, to work a little harder, to live their lives without interference. The nation they have made has rarely lived up to the ideals of Ms. Lazarus' poem - our nation has occasionally turned its back on those who yearn to breathe free, and the golden door has slammed shut, the light beside it extinguished in a short-sited desire for non-existent purity - but the two together - the Statue and the promise of America embedded in Emma Lazarus brief yet powerful words - give to us, and those who have come here, a vision of what America should be, and can be when we listen to the better angels of our nature.
To erase the words of the poem, to eradicate that vision in the name of historical "accuracy", would do violence to the hope and promise we offer the world. It would eradicate the idea that we offer the world a better vision of what it means to live, and live freely, to be both American and Irish, or Italian, or Greek, or Korean, to add to the whole without subtracting from the parts.
Ugly words and bad history have no place on the one day when all Americans should remember the promise our nation has made, the on-going experiment in liberty and self-governance that is the United States of America, and the many gifts so many people from far-flung places have given to us.