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.
- Words of poet Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty
‘My late step-father, Samuel Pisar, was one of 900 children in his school in Bialystok, Poland, but the only one to survive the Holocaust after four years in concentration camps.
‘At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the Bavarian woods. From his hiding place, he heard the rumbling sound of a tank. Instead of an Iron Cross, he saw a 5- pointed White Star.’
‘He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African American GI looked down at him. He fell to his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him: God Bless America. The GI lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.’
- Anthony Blinken, Biden appointee to be Secretary of State
As we enter this holiday season, it is essential to remember that America, this immigrant nation, has been and is a promised land for so many.
President Barack Obama remembers. That is why he titled his memoir A Promised Land.
A promised land does not mean a perfect land. It means there is a place that promises anyone, regardless of their country of origin, sex, race, religion, or status, the opportunity to believe, conceive, and achieve.
America made that promise at its founding when it stated in the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
America did not deliver on that promise for all at its beginning. And for too many, it still does not do so today. But through the more than two centuries of its existence, American leaders and concerned citizens have striven to make this nation “a more perfect union” and to ensure that promises made are promises kept.
This is critical to remember. Unfortunately, over the past decade, and most recently under the Trump presidency, it has not been remembered, or perhaps was never known or understood.
Most recently, America has been moved toward isolationism, both internally and on the world stage. The evolving American melting pot of diversity and acceptance was being replaced with a pot strainer for selection and rejection.
In this year’s presidential election, the majority of Americans voted to make America a promised land again. This should be celebrated during this holiday season. And in our holiday wishes for this year, we do so by remembering America’s past and wishing for its future.
- We remember: George Washington in 1790 labeling this American democracy and its governmental system “a great experiment”.
- We wish: That the great experiment will continue through this 21st century into the 22nd and beyond.
- We remember: Abraham Lincoln in 1863 in his Gettysburg Address proclaiming that — “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”
- We wish: In the years and decades to come, that freedom shall finally be fully and fairly extended to Blacks.
- We remember: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 enunciating the four freedoms: Freedom of speech. Freedom to worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.
- We wish: Freedom of speech to dignify discourse, not to demean it and each other. Freedom to worship, not through one politically dominant Christian religion, but ecumenically and through all religions. Freedom from want for those tens of millions of Americans who still live in poverty in the world’s richest nation. Freedom from fear of each other, and faith in our ability to overcome the current threats to democracy.
- We remember: John F. Kennedy in 1961 requesting, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
- We wish: That citizens ask what they can do to strengthen the four freedoms, extend the new birth of freedom to all, and contribute to the continuation of this great experiment.
- We remember: George W. Bush in 2001 explaining, “America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every child must uphold them…Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion, and character.”
- We wish: For a national system of civic education and citizen learning and engagement that prepares and equips to live out our nation’s promise.
- We remember: Joe Biden at Gettysburg in 2020 stating, “We must seek not to have our fists clinched but our arms open. We have to seek not to tear each other apart. We have to seek to come together.”
- We wish: That we Americans learn to embrace each other and learn how to work together in unity.
- We remember: Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 saying to Blacks in Memphis — “I’ve been to the mountaintop…I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you know to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
- We wish: That MLK’s people and we the American people get to the promised land and arrive there together hand in hand and arm in arm..
This is what we remember and this is what we wish. These are our holiday wishes for all in America — a promised land. A promised land for we, the people.
Happy and healthy holidays and best wishes for the new year and the years to follow.
Originally published by the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship. For more information on what 21st century citizenship entails, and to see exemplars from around the world, please visit our website.