Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

By Alexia Gonzales and Camille Grandguillotte, University of Angers

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the United States. But if one is asked why the
Statue is an American icon, the answer can be hard to find instantly. In France, most
people see the Statue of Liberty as an emblematic representation of the US and of
New York; but what do they really know about it? That it was built by Gustave Eiffel?
That it was a present from France to the US?


The Statue of Liberty was indeed a Franco-American project, but it is more than just
that. The iconicity of the Statue of Liberty resides in its first symbolism: the welcoming
of immigrants to the US, to a land of hope and freedom. Nowadays, this symbolism is
a little lost because immigrants don’t necessarily arrive to the New York harbor, but
one of the first “roles” of the Statue was that of a reassuring “Mother of Exiles”: “A
mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles […] Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free.”

Many years after the Statue’s construction in 1886, the United States have changed
dramatically: it is no longer a country needing immigrants to survive. With each
immigration act and with the way the country treats its minorities, it feels like the US
have forgotten their roots. No need to know history to say that the country was built
from the ground by immigration, especially since the first “American” settlers were
themselves immigrants.

The US has always been a destination of choice for immigrants, a way of achieving
their “American dream” and the Statue of Liberty embodied everything they needed:
hope and freedom. Is it still true nowadays?

Seeing the numerous cartoons on the blog, we were made to ask ourselves if this
symbolic emblem still had the same resonance it once had. However, the answer is
not quite so simple. Though to us, the Statue seems to have become reduced to
these two main aspects: business and politics. There is no need to deny the Statue’s
marketing power and its touristic attraction. Moreover, we can see that the Statue is a
recurring symbol used to denounce the actions of the government, especially
concerning immigration, but also the lack of individual liberty or the consumerism
society, as we can see through all the different articles posted on this blog.

Can the Statue of Liberty still be a symbol of hope and freedom, as it was at the
beginning, when it is repeatedly used to denounce the elements previously cited ?
We’d like to think so. Although the image of the Statue of Liberty has changed a lot,
often linked to negative aspects of the American society or government, it remains a
symbol of the American dream, and an American Icon.

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Superman, having come from another planet entirely, is perhaps the most extreme representation of the American immigrant in popular media. Adopted by an elderly couple after crash-landing on Earth, Clark Kent grows up with the knowledge that he is quite different from everyone else. However, for the majority of his formative years, he spends his time attending school and playing the part of the good American son society expects him to be.

However, all is not as it seems–instead of achieving the popularity one might assume his super strength/speed would give him, he is teased and considered strange by his peers at school. When his adoptive father comments that he must have been showing off, he replies, “Is it showing off if somebody’s doing the things he’s capable of doing? Is a bird showing off when it flies?” which displays his frustration at being expected to live within the “normal” limitations society has placed on him.

Here, we have the beginnings of the split between his “Clark” persona and “Superman.” In his adult life, he lives an almost entirely assimilated existence on the surface, keeping his powers completely under wraps beneath the guise of well-meaning, bumbling nerd Clark Kent. In all the places Kent is dorky, clumsy, and ultimately forgettable, Superman is handsome, suave, and charming. Nowhere does this become more obvious than in his interactions with Lois Lane–who is as attracted to Superman as she is uninterested in Kent.

This double-life, living as a mixture of two different personas, can be seen as a representation (if somewhat extreme) of the experiences of the average American immigrant. The nail that sticks up is the one that gets hammered down, as they say, so it makes sense that (at least in public) immigrants might be quicker to shed their past identities and live as “American” an existence as possible, lest their lives become needlessly complicated. It’s not that Kent couldn’t live his life out in the open as Superman; it’s just that it’s easier (on him, and ostensibly his family as well) not to.

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Superman’s representation of America is everlasting because America is continuously the immigration nation. He’s an immigrant, conflicted between keeping his heritage from Krypton and assimilating into his new culture of Earth. Created by two Jewish men in a time of rampant anti-Semitism, it’s no wonder that Superman was their creative outlet. Many people flocking to America, and choosing to make it their new home, share a similar conflict with Superman, and all the worries and stress that come with it. Superman gives immigrant Americans hope by showing them that it is possible to be happily conflicted.

Not only does Superman reflect the origin story of all Americans, he also protects them, and fights for what the country stands for. Growing up in Smallville under the guidance of his father, Superman learned humility, integrity, and to love America. But he felt that Smallville was too closed-minded for him to use his powers, so he left. After moving to Metropolis and fully becoming the Superman we know and love, he began “the never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” Superman never lies, always does what’s fair, and is an American, so he’s someone we can whole-heartedly support. He believes in America so much that he’s willing to die for it (if he could).

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I thought the film we watched this week clearly reflected the concepts we discussed on Tuesday. The following points are the main ideas about Superman I took from the reading and from watching the movie.

Superman is in many ways the quintessential American. He is able to represent the ultimate American because of his double life. By taking on the personas of both Clark Kent and Superman, the hero is able to reflect many contradictory ideals. Clark Kent is the average, reliable, small-town American with traditional values. Superman is both the immigrant and the reflection of American exceptionalism. Images of both the city and the town play an interesting role in Superman’s narrative. Superman continues to be appealing to Americans because he simultaneously reflects many American ideals without the tension that normally underlies icons.

Gary Engle asserts that the Superman narrative cannot be told without the immigration narrative. The 1978 film Superman clearly portrays Superman as an immigrant. In the beginning of the film, Superman’s parents decide to send him to Earth so that he will survive, as their planet is about to be destroyed. Traveling to America for safety and/or freedom is embedded in the country’s history. When the alien hero comes to the United States, he has to assimilate. He does not go by his alien name, Kal-El, but is given a new name by his adoptive parents. Clark’s father warns him that he is not like everyone else and that he cannot let everyone see exactly who he is and what he can do. The necessity of Clark Kent reveals the importance of fitting in. Many Americans value and trust those who are similar to them. Clark has the qualities of a stereotypical American citizen: he grew up on a farm, he was raised in a small-town environment, and he dresses in flannel shirts and jeans, clothing traditionally associated with white collar citizens. However, the alien also remains true to his culture as Superman. Superman reflects the values of his planet. Through the personas of Clark and Superman, the character is able to overcome the struggle of all immigrants between assimilation and retaining their cultural identity. He simultaneously solves the American contradiction between conformity and individuality.

The small town and the big city play an important role in Superman’s storyline. The small town is a place strongly associated with the American image. It was important for Clark Kent to grow up in a town, because this area relates to his authentic American character. However, the city needs Superman. In the film, the city is portrayed as a more complex, dangerous place than the town. This dangerousness is seen right away in the film, when Clark and Lois Lane are held at gunpoint. Clark has to move to the city and become Superman because his powers that make him different from other humans will be able to help people. Superman’s role in the city reflects the notion that while conformity is necessary, there is also a necessity for strong individuals in society. It is also important to note that while the city in the film is technically the fictional Metropolis, the Statue of Liberty appears, as though the setting is New York. The use of the Statue of Liberty is significant to the immigrant narrative, because it used to be the first thing immigrants saw when coming to America.

Superman represents many contradictory American concepts in a way that no other icon can. His duality through embodying both a typical American and an immigrant hero makes him the ultimate United States citizen. The settings Superman can be found in reflect the importance of the alien embodying both characters.

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I believe this image captures the essence of the modern day Lady Liberty. Originally, the Statue of Liberty represented friendship and freedom from oppression. She was placed in New York Harbor to welcome immigrants to this country. However, in present day America, I feel that it is only appropriate that her outward appearance is altered from one of power to one of chaos. In this image, I feel that Lady Liberty is depicted as upset and frustrated because over the years Americans have forgotten her original purpose. She used to symbolize America’s welcoming nature toward immigrants, but now our country is advocating anti-immigration laws such as the one passed in Arizona. I interpret the burning Constitution in this image as a metaphor for how our nation, under the direction of the government and government agencies, has been slowly molding portions of the Constitution to fit their current desires. An example of this would be the wiretapping of American citizens by the National Security Administration. The Bill of Rights grants citizens with the right of privacy, making this government action contradictory to the fundamental document of America.

To me, this image illustrates a much-needed wake-up call to Americans. Our nation used to be one of rapid progress, and to say that we are slowing down today would be putting it lightly. We are a great nation with the power and potential to be the greatest nation, but if we continue remaining closed-minded and individually greedy, we cannot expect to move forward.

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This Sunday cartoon instantly caught my eye because 1.) We read the quote by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free 2.) Obama’s State of the Union speech that incorporated immigration reform 3.) My recent trip back to the village my parents immigrated from this past winter break. Its funny to me that this particular artist decided to depict the “anti-immigration” people as 4 white people who are protesting and mocking the what the Statue of Liberty once stood for. Currently, Mr. Obama has an executive order out protecting nearly five million illegal immigrants from deportation and has been trying to get the country together around immigration reform that can work for the long term. Obama’s measure grants temporary legal status to scores of young people or “dreamers” brought to this country by their illegal immigrant parents. Unfortunately, this country has deviated from what Emma Lazarus wrote about in her poem. I agree that some-sort of immigration reform is needed, but we need to continue to be a country accepting of immigrants. On a recent trip back to the village in India my parents grew up in, I realized how lucky I was that I was born in the US. When I see people protesting and advocating deportation in mass numbers, it makes no sense! As a country, it makes sense to allow educated people “yearning” to have a better life be allowed to come into the US. I visited some family back in India and my cousins were telling me how they applied for tourist visas to come visit the US about 9-10 times and have been denied every single time. Its impressive to know that a US passport allows us (US Citizens) access to 174 countries without the need for a visa… And only 38 countries are eligible for visa-free entry into the United States.

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ImageWhat young boy doesn’t dream of being Superman, the cape wearing, ass kicking, man of steel (and justice!). The embodiment of masculinity, the aspiration of many young boys, Superman was born out of Jewish oppression. Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster (the sons of Jewish immigrants)popularised the superhero in the 1930’s and 40’s and the two struggling Jewish illustrators soon created an American classic, a mouth piece for the oppressed and an icon for the American people but more importantly, immigrants. Perhaps this creation was spurred on in its creation by the low opinions of Jews during what is considered to be one of the heights of anti-Semitic attitudes, not just in America but also in the obvious case of Nazi Germany.

It is of course reasonably to assume that the reason Superman as an icon resonates so powerfully when Americans is his status as an immigrant and orphan, a person who lost there home yet found comfort in a new land. Immigration is a key part of  U.S.A history, the keystone of its foundation. Yet his story was not just migration from one country to another but also recognising the struggle of migration from rural to urban environments and getting acclimated to new settings. He was in many eyes, the embodiment of a guardian angel to protect the weak from all the evil in the world. This is seen in the translation of Superman’s birth name ‘Kal-el’ which ‘can be read as “all that is God,’ or ‘all that God is’. The affix ‘el’ is also a common form for  angels in  Semitic mythology. This does not mean he is purely a Jewish or even religious icon, Superman transcends all sectarian boundaries as a protector of all the weak and deserving who in today’s climate in the U.S.A and Israel, does not seem to be in any danger of disappearing anytime soon. It is this mild mannered reporter by day, who when needed saves the people (and the girl) which is what every man strives for. To be a provider and protector is what masculinity is all about and no one does that better than Superman.

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