1 America as a land of promises
“As you know, I'm an immigrant. I came over here as an immigrant, and what gave me the opportunities, what made me to be here today, is the open arms of Americans. I have been received. I have been adopted by America” (qtd. in Sheehy 196), Arnold Schwarzenegger once stated. This famous man, the 38th Governor of California, is the personification of the American Dream. He came to the US at an age of 21, speaking no English, however, he became a millionaire and was elected governor in 2003 (“Profile: Arnold Schwarzenegger”). This is one result of the endless opportunities America is said to offer.
Therefore, every year 1.6 million immigrants come to the United States of America to live a better life (Camarota, “Immigrants in the United States”). 1.1 million people obtained the legal permanent resident status per year during the last decade (Napolitano 5). This means 0.5 million people per year immigrant illegally and are supposed to leave the United States.
In this paper I will explore the question whether America is still a land of liberty, independency and equal opportunities for all like the Statue of Liberty, one of America’s best known symbols, stands for. To do so, I will analyze two scenes out of the film “The Visitor”, directed by Thomas McCarthy, where this problem is debated. It is about a couple, who immigrated illegally to New York and now lives in a professor’s house. One day, the illegal man gets arrested and is brought to the custody to secure deportation. The movie shows how immigrants are exposed to the idea of liberty and how quickly this dream actually might end.
2 Restrictions to the American Dream
In McCarthy’s Movie “The Visitor” a Syrian musician named Tarek and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab are illegal immigrants in New York and live in Professor Walter Vale’s apartment. Walter usually lives near Connecticut and when he comes back to New York for procedural reasons, he discovers that his earlier home has been surreptitiously rented. Considering the foreign couple has no other place to stay, he invites them to share his apartment with them. Tarek and Walter become friends and start playing the djembes together, also along with others in the New York Central Park. This “urban, multicultural idyll is shattered” (Scott, “Professor as Student”) when Tarek is detained by the police because of a misunderstanding in the subway. Now, Mouna, the mother of the Syrian man, arrives from Michigan and wants Zainab to show her where she spent some time with Tarek.
In the first scene Zainab takes Walter and Mouna on a ferry to Staten Island where she and Tarek often went because it is free of charge and they felt to go far away. Standing at the railing of the ferry, she shows Mouna where the Twin Towers used to be, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. She explains: “Sometimes Tarek would point at the statue and jump up and down like we were arriving to New York for the first time. It was very funny” (The Visitor). While Zainab is talking about it, the Statue of Liberty is shown in the background, the contrast between the symbol of liberty and an illegal woman is therefore immediately made obvious. The film cuts in this scene only change between Walter and Mouna, who listen to the story, and Zainab in front of the symbol. There is no music or sound in the background, except wind and water, thus the focus clearly concentrates on the narration.
Here the symbol of freedom throughout the world looms large (Barron and Ember, “Statue of Liberty Interior”). Additionally, Ellis Island used to be the gateway for millions of immigrants to the US. The Statue of Liberty “is the Mother of Exiles, greeting millions of immigrants and embodying hope and opportunity for those seeking a better life in America. It stirs the desire for freedom in people all over the world” (“The Statue of Liberty”). The Statue is one of the first things foreigners see when coming to the US. Her flaming torch, her crown with seven spikes and robe display the American Pride, her whole posture represents power, wealth and freedom of this nation, a nation where your dreams are supposed to come true (Powell, “Lady Liberty’s Crown”). In her left hand the Statue holds a tablet, with the date the United States declared its independence in 1776. Again, the Declaration of Independence is a symbol of liberty, as it turned the US into a democratic independent state that was no longer part of the British Empire (Engler and Scheiding 191-95). It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson who focused on the ideals of liberalism and equality for all. There are unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. But obviously these ideals and rights do not apply to anyone.
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- Thomas McCarthy The Visitor Liberty Illegal Immigration USA Statue of Liberty Land of Liberty Broken Promises