We read If Your Name was Changed at Ellis Island and look at pictures of us all at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty from a summer visit several years ago. I pull my college copy of World of Our Fathers off the bookshelf. I so desperately want those pages to become like memory to them as I am not certain that Fievel is a strong enough character to link them to their past (plus my four year old has been relentlessly attacking our pet cats with toy swords and accusing them of being Cossacks.)
Clearly lost on my four year old, I still am not certain the older children can ever see themselves in these stories. I need them to understand that our story doesn’t begin a decade ago with the fully paid for business class flight from JFK to Hong Kong. I tell and retell the few family stories I know so many times that they are soon able to do this themselves.
When we read Emma Lazarus, we stop and focus on each line and we talk about where our family’s story connects with her words and her world. My daughter writes her Emma Lazarus speech and together we sort out an Emma Lazarus costume for her. I watch her transform, while not into Emma Lazarus herself (for to be honest we were the huddled masses) but into someone that is beginning to understand how she connects to history.
When we return this summer to New York and make our own visit to Lady Liberty, I can’t wait to watch my children’s faces as she appears or their looks when they see Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus. We return, for the summer, with a stronger connection to America and to our past.
We all now dream of crowded ships, heroic mice, a brilliant torch, traveled candlesticks, Cossacks (or cats) and maybe even the sounds of the violin.