In May of 1895, the ship Teutonic left the port in Liverpool, England, bound for the United States of America. On the ship was a three-year-old girl, Hannah Askew. She and her family were traveling to America to be reunited with her father. The family had moved from England to Australia in 1888, because of the shortage of work in England. Life in Australia, however, was not much better than life in England, so they had moved back to England. When the Panic of 1893 hit, Hannah’s father went to America to find work. He worked sporadically in different jobs until he got a well-paying job in the iron mines near Ishpeming, Michigan. After procuring lodging he sent for his family. Now the family was coming to meet him and begin their new life in the United States.
The ship had rough sailing and Hannah, her brother and sister, and mother were constantly sick. The quarters on the ship were cramped and miserable and she was kept inside for much of the voyage. The family finally arrived in the United States on July 3, 1895, and were welcomed at Ellis Island. That night they stayed at a friend’s house who fed them a dinner of bread and milk. They traveled from New York by train to Michigan and were reunited with their father. Hannah Askew is my great-grandmother and one of the millions of immigrants that came to America in the 1800’s.
As immigrants like Hannah entered New York Harbor, they passed under the welcoming arms of the Statue of Liberty. On the pedestal of the status are these immortal words:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door!”
The people who came to America were usually not the rich or the famous; they were the tired, the poor, and the wretched seeking a golden door. That golden door was opened for them in America and so they came seeking a golden opportunity an opportunity that was found in the great cotton and wool mills of the large cities, opportunity that was found in the mines, the farms, the west, and the railroad
These immigrants contributed to our culture and much of the richness that we now enjoy. Immigrants from Norway and the Netherlands brought many of our Christmas traditions. Italian immigrants brought some of our favorite foods. Immigrants from Ireland brought their legends of Saint Patrick. Movies were introduced to America by the Russian Jews and the Greeks. The log cabin was introduced by the Swedes, and the Germans organized symphonies and clubs. Because of the diversity of the cultures that are mixed to form the American culture, we have the richest culture in the world. America’s welcome became America’s wealth.
Since the days of the Ellis Island, we have continued to welcome immigrants and their descendants. We have strived to accept and befriend all people into our churches and our schools. We have elected them to public office and befriended them in our neighborhoods.
Although our doors may not be opened as wide as they were in 1895, when my great-grandmother arrived, our hearts are open still. In our hearts America still welcomes the world. We welcome them by carrying their burdens, by lighting their way, by reaching out to them.
The United States has helped people recover from war, and improved living conditions in third world countries. We have been a major contributor in disaster relief throughout the world and have been the intermediaries and helpers of many struggling governments.
In no war in which the United States has been engaged has it seized property or land from an enemy as a treasure of war. Always we have graciously helped the people in countries regain their lives. After World War II, the United States gave Japan millions of dollars to build steel factories and to help restore what had been destroyed by the war. When soviet armies blockaded Berlin, we airlifted thousands of tons of food through the winter to keep the people from starving.
The United States has also played a prominent role in disaster relief around the world. When there were earthquakes in India the US helped immediately. Rescue workers from the US were sent to help. Food was sent from the Red Cross and many religious institutions. When rain waters flooded the country of Bolivia, we again sent workers and food to help the suffering people.
Just as our government reaches out to others, so do our people. As individuals, we welcome the world. The United States is home to thousands of humanitarian organizations that routinely send help and supplies to the poor and needy of the world. In high school I traveled to Peru with one of these organizations. We took simple things such as nails, hammers, crayons, beads, and educational supplies, and we taught them how to use them. We taught them how to build an efficient stove out of mud, and helped put in a water system to help with sanitation problems. We helped them to improve their overall experience of life by taking America’s richness and sharing it with them.
Many other people help the poor and needy people of the world. We have organized groups like the Oulessabougou Alliance whose mission is to help the people of Mali. This organization raises money by selling goods produced by villagers in Mali to people in America. This money then goes back to Mali to pay teachers and to send educational and medical supplies. By helping in this way, they do not make the people dependent on America for leadership and organization. Almost all of the leaders in the alliance are from Mali and will continue to live there and support their country. The founders of the alliance have reached out with their hearts and helped to take the golden door to Mali.
America has welcomed the world in different ways throughout its history. In the 1800’s we welcomed thousands of people to our shores and our way of life. These people brought their culture with them and enriched our culture by it. People still come to America and we should welcome them still. Today we welcome the people of the world into our hearts as we not only welcome them to our shores but also build them up in their native lands and help them better their lives. Our welcome reaches across borders, it embraces all people, it seeks to better the whole world.
This text is a slightly reworked speech that I gave as part of a Independence Day speech competition in 2001. I think it is pertinent today