I didn't know who she was, when I saw her, but somebody did and word went around that she was Liberty. I don't think you can understand.
The old country was beautiful. It is beautiful still, will be always. I can never go back there. You have your own beauty here, I know, your own snowy old mountains--you are a big country. But you can never know the old country; and then how can you really know your citizen?
I have stories to tell you, of course, I carry with me a thousand remnants of my old home, though you have seen refugees before and their stories wind together in your memory when you sleep. I will bring the songs and the recipes and a few words, a few of the things she and I shared once, and you will have a little breath of her in you because of me.
But you cannot know how you terrify me. Sitting behind your desk now, fingers buckled around your pen, trying to hide the way you want to roll your eyes at the sound of my name, you are all America to me, and soon you will sit in judgement. Isn't the secret written on my face? I feel my past trailing behind me, my life in the old country like my wake in the waves, and at any moment you might glance over my shoulder and read it there, and understand at last how I was cast out, and then I will be on a boat again.
You have taken in other people's criminals before. You made them citizens and made a nation of them. You are young, you have grown so strong even as the rest of the world is dwindling, and your wide bright eyes look always forward; maybe I can believe that behind that constant, flashing smile, that cheery piping voice, you really are so fearless. Of course I want a life in your arms, the new beginning you have always stood for. But I never imagined I would stand at your door in my lifetime and offer myself to you.
Can you believe that I am a good citizen? I cannot tell you why I was condemned. I will never know why. Life was that way in the old country; your people can never understand that. But I want you to know that I honored my homeland; I do not believe I am a criminal.
But I was cast out, and I have wandered, and here I am now on your little island, looking in your eyes and flexing my fingers in my pockets, waiting for you to decide that I will not do. Who would blame you? I would not. I have been expecting it. Almost I feel like I must warn you, defend you: my first act as your faithful citizen.
But I know now what I want. I looked it in the eye today, in your harbor. If you will let me, I will dwell here, I will walk the length and breadth of you, I will take the measure of your great plain, count your creatures, speak your language, learn to know you as I never knew the old country. I will accept you as my own and make you the greater. I have always known I am a good citizen. I would be yours--if you will have me. If you can overlook my expulsion at every port before this one. If you believe one more citizen on your street is a new son in the family and not a troublesome guest. If you are really so strong as your legend says you are, strong enough to look a stranger in the eyes, a fugitive, someone's criminal, and smile that way, that thunderclap smile, and take his hand, adopt him, trust him, and make him an American.