January 10, 2007
Sr. Rose Leo, the principal of the grade school I attended, was also a talented musician who could have had a career as an opera singer. Three days a week, after school, our girl’s chorus assembled for practice, singing musical exercises until Sr. Rose Leo swept into the room. Then she would distribute sheet music for unusual pieces, dramatic and emotional songs rarely heard beyond our rehearsal room. We were enthralled by the sheer beauty of her voice, no matter what music she chose.
One year, Sr. Rose Leo taught us a musical rendition of Emma Lazarus’s lines inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
My voice quavered and sometimes cracked as the soprano section surged toward the highest notes in this piece. Sr. Rose Leo kindly instructed me to lip sync. But nothing fettered my idealism. I was swollen with happiness because I lived in the land that welcomed and cared for these huddled masses.
Growing up in the U.S. has meant coming to grips with realities about America that don’t square with patriotic childhood fervor. Today, we must hope that U.S. grown-ups refuse to be treated like big children as they listen to President Bush’s latest speech about Iraq.