As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, America has always signified for me, a place of hope, success, progress, and a place where anyone – despite their background -- could make it if they wanted to. Those words on the base of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” have long stood out as a reminder to every American whose ancestors came from another land. A gift from France, she proudly stands as a beacon to those who long for a better life.
When those towers fell right at her very feet, the entire world was shaken. Living in Italy, bustling Milan fell silent. People wept openly in the streets, candlelight vigils were held in front of the Embassy, and overnight, American flags sprung up on nearly every balcony, over car windows and across store fronts. Despite her gaping wound, everyone knew that America would stand upright again, and shine her light across the globe. I was proud to be American and, as such, a spokesperson for a country looked up to by so many from so far.
Sadly, almost as fast as those flags went up, they disappeared. Solidarity turned to cynicism, defending the innocent turned to war profiteering, and candlelight vigils became hostile street protests. Anti-American graffiti was splayed across every wall and, after more than once getting mobbed, I was afraid to drive my car with those glaring Michigan plates. For those of us living abroad, the hostility was palpable. The last 8 years have been sown with international discord, personal discomfort, and the depressing fact that democratic America was not only looked down upon, but was driven into the same category usually reserved for despot dictators.
With the arrival onto the political scene of the improbable candidate, Barack Obama, a sea change seemed to be brewing. With his election, it felt more like a tsunami. In Rome, Bangladeshi car washers would give me the thumbs up when seeing my ‘Obama 08’ bumper sticker, Italian newspapers followed his ascent almost as closely as their own elections, and Europeans gathered in pubs and piazzas from Scotland to Sicily to watch the election results throughout the night.
With Barack Obama’s inauguration, the swearing in of a son of an immigrant who yearned for a better life, a man without a European-like political dynasty to prop him up, a man who embodies the very ‘melting pot’ that is America, we have shown the world that once again, what America truly represents:
that it is still a place where anyone can rise to greatness; where an education at top universities is possible, despite your meager means; where the oldest democracy in the world can still shift power without violence, corruption or coups and where a house built by slaves can one day be inhabited by a mixed race family.
When Barack Obama takes his oath, once again, Lady Liberty can proudly shine her light and lead the way – bringing back hope to people, wherever they are, who look to her example for the very values that all of us Americans hold true, wherever we may be.