Paved With Gold

Jose Vilson Jose

What do you believe in?

This question always comes to me whenever I hit historical sites like Ellis Island, an island that symbolizes the immigration of millions of people’s hopes and dreams but also desperation and pain. I couldn’t overlook the trials they had to endure before they even arrived here, having to raise money just to get on that boat, followed by a 2-week journey from Europe to the United States, followed by their interrogations, investigations, proddings, and mental and physical examinations. I’m not someone who strictly about one form of oppression over another, and it’s with that understanding that I went into Ellis Island.

Of course, we got to see the statistics upon statistics of the people who came through Ellis Island through immigration. Left and right, we saw artifacts and relics of the past and present of one of the most famous islands in the world. But the one part of the museum that struck me read like this:

“I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all: and third, I was expected to pave them.”

Wow. The cynicism. The reality. The ability to simplistically tell the tale of so many people who come here with a vision. Yet, it’s also a big sigh and a “Let’s get to work,” one that always gives me hope in the altruism of people. I believe strongly in people and their ability to rise. My idealism, though tempered by my critical eye, still remains, and even through the hardships and scrutiny, they still did what other immigrants to this country had to do: work their butt off.

Yes, there are degrees of help that certain people were given depending on the top 1% ‘s needs and wants, but people more than anything needed hope. For all the complaints people had about this country, these immigrants preferred this over their previous country.

One lady in a video remarked how skyscrapers weren’t oppressive but beautiful. I admit I was taken aback at the irony of that. I instantly recognized the irony of such beautiful structures like The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building, truly sites to behold. Yet, I also couldn’t help but think how many people built those edifices of capitalism on minimum wage or less, how many died making those structures, and how the bosses house their multimillion dollar corporations in there while the same workers can hardly make the rent.

But the streets weren’t paved with gold, and we’re paved until immigrants and low-class workers came into do that ground work, and that’s pretty much the American dream. That’s their dream, and ours, too. Not to be hundreds of dollars richer, but to see to it that our progeny never have to suffer the way they did.

Interestingly, this never shows up as a definition of ‘liberty’. Maybe it should.

jose, whose theme for the week is work …