Our Lady Liberty


In May of 1953 my dad, his parents, and two sisters were on a boat that sailed from Rotterdam, Holland with travelers and immigrants to the United States from post-WWII reconstruction Europe.

Ellis Island, the primary entrance point for immigrants from 1892 to 1953 that welcomed millions of immigrants coming to the country, had just been closed by the time my dad sailed past the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty. Instead, they stopped just on the other side of Ellis Island in Hoboken, NJ, which had been outfitted as a more modern facility, and offered trains that took immigrants west to the Midwest, Great Plains, and—as in my dad’s case—all the way to Los Angeles.

I’ve been learning more about my family history over the last decade than I remember hearing or paying attention to when I was younger—things such as the fact that my grandfather who was a Dutch Baker landed in the US with $20 in his pocket and eventually retired as the head chef at the Disneyland Hotel.

Culture and heritage is an important thing for identity. I had the benefit of living in Holland between ages 3-6 while my dad, who flew for the US Navy, served an exchange pilot for the Dutch navy. Most of my earliest memories in life are European memories: cows in the green grass in fields in the Swiss Alps, tulip gardens under cloudy skies on Sunday afternoons in Holland, and chasing pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.

We all come from somewhere, and I was blessed early in life to have exposure to that side of my family history. It’s something I’ve been trying to share with my four daughters (they’ve received no fewer than three Dutch cookbooks over the past few Christmases if that gives you any idea.) I look forward to one day taking the girls to New York, showing them the Statue of Liberty, and telling them the stories of how their Opa (my dad) was welcomed to the land of liberty as have been so many other immigrants in the course of our country’s history. The Statue of Liberty truly is an amazing and awe-inspiriting symbol of this country’s highest aspirations.

Here are the famous words penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of the fundraising efforts to build the pedestal on which the statue would stand.

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glow’s world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.”

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

[Here are a few images of me and Tamara and the Statue of Liberty when we took a cruise on a recent trip to New York for a think tank on diversity.]

Ken wytsma & Tamara and the Statue of Liberty



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