My friends have planned a trip to Vegas this weekend, which I was going to attend but last week decided not to because of my chronic* illness over winter break. I thought it best to take it easy.
So even though I told my grandmother, like, a week ago, that I wasn't going to Vegas anymore, she asked me if I was going again when she called today. Um, nope, still not going. Was it because I didn't like the people I'd be going with?, she asked. Um, what the fuck? I don't know where she gets ideas like these.
Anyway, all her talk of Vegas gets her started on the times she's been to Vegas. And she mentions she does like how when you come in to Vegas, you see a replica of the Statue of Liberty. And of course, she's explaining this to me like I don't know that it's there. Which I do. Because I have been to Vegas before.** And she doesn't like this fake Lady Liberty because she thinks it's insulting because the real statue is so important and symbolized such hope for people.
"Yes, Bubie," I rolled my eyes because, whatever, she can't see me anyway. "The hope to make a long, arduous ocean voyage only to be sent back if you had a cold. Or the hope to get in and be forced to live in a slum and endure hardship and racial oppression."
She didn't really seem to take notice of what I was saying. "Let me tell you, when I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time..."
My grandmother arrived in the US in 1956, two years after Ellis Island had closed. "You did not see the Statue of Liberty as you were coming into New York," I reply. "You were on a plane."
My mother, who is sitting next to me eating dinner, is trying hard but failing not to laugh as I inform her in a whisper to what her mother is saying that she can't hear. My grandmother continues to insist that a Vegas replica is an insult to the special embodiment of American values that the statue holds for immigrants.
I think this is the fundamental difference between me and my grandmother: even after over 60 years in this country, she still believes in that immigrant dream of the Land of Opportunity, and I suppose she should, because that dream has been true for her. After all the shit she went through in pre-war Poland and then the Holocaust, a country where (almost) no one has stigmatized her for being Jewish and where her family was economically successful with only one breadwinner (my grandfather) must seem like a bloody miracle. But for me, even though I am a middle-class white person, that dream is not what I study or see. I see a world where my LGBT client from Mexico can't get political asylum because he saw a lawyer about the process in 2009 and now it's been over his 1-year time limit. I see a country, both past and present, so mired with racism and xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric that it makes me want to cry. I grew up in a household with two working parents because my mother could not not work. I don't know if she simply refuses to see this, but I doubt it. This country, after all, gave her pretty much everything the Statue of Liberty promised. Why should she believe me? I'm just some pretentious, spoiled, 20-something, not-even-college-graduated kid who has never even been to New York City, much less battled her way through anti-Semitic Poland and Hitler's Germany to finally make it to the promised land*** and see that green woman holding the flame of liberty and the book of freedom**** and finally felt sure that everything was going to be okay.
"You know what Bubie? I think you're wrong. I think taking an overinflated and arguably false symbol of the supposed freedom and opportunity of America and making a sized-down, less impressive replica for a greedy commercial exploitation is the definition of the American Dream."
*not really chronic, just like, lightly persistent?
**I was 10, but believe me, the fake Statue of Liberty was one of the few things I could enjoy, so I fucking remember it.
***Actually, my grandmother moved to Israel first, which is technically the "Promised Land", but whatever, I'm going to stop mixing my metaphors here.