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Celebrating America’s Immigrants

Statue of Liberty


Photo ┬ęDavid Saddler CC Photo License

Are you looking for a way to help your children feel more patriotic this Fourth of July? Well you might want to start by reminding them of the words of poet Emma Lazarus, which are found on a bronze plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“Along with the fireworks, celebrate Independence Day by honoring America's immigrant heritage.”

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

(The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus)

In answer to this call, many people have made their way to America, in hopes of a new life in a new land. Their stories have also inspired various movies. So this year, along with the fireworks, your family may want to celebrate Independence Day by honoring America's immigrant heritage. Here is a list of some films you can share:

Disney's Pocahontas may not be historically accurate, but it certainly can “paint with all the colors of the wind. This animated adaptation of the famous Indian princess (voiced by Irene Bedard) looks at the prejudices between the indigenous people and the new settlers as Europeans began to make America their home.

Disney followed up this movie with the sequel Pocahontas: Journey to the New World. Older audiences might also enjoy The New World, a live action version of this story.

An American Tail uses a family of mice to depict the trials of immigrant life. The animation follows a little fellow named Fievel (voice of Laura Carson/Phillip Glasser) who is searching for the family he was accidentally separated from during the voyage to the new world.

Avalon explores the immigrant experience and the reality of the American dream through the starry eyes of Sam Krichinsky (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who arrived in Baltimore in 1914. His struggle to maintain family ties and traditions while facing the challenges of adapting to a new life underscore the cultural and societal changes that are simultaneously affecting the fabric of the entire nation.

Not all immigrants to America came willingly. The TV mini series Roots (available on DVD), traces the family tree of African-American author Alex Haley, whose forbearers were transplanted on foreign soil as slaves. This story also chronicles their fight for liberty and freedom.

Immigrants continue to face problems with prejudice, as portrayed in the 1961 musical West Side Story. When Tony (Richard Beymer) falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), their respective kin are not as willing as the couple to overlook their varied cultural backgrounds. Like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, a family feud begins to rumble on the West Side of New York City.

A desire for the opportunities America has to offer is enticing enough that some people attempt to immigrate illegally. Such is the case of a young couple in the movie The Visitor. Their plight unwittingly becomes the concern of a quiet economics professor (Richard Jenkins) when he discovers the pair is living in an apartment he owns, but infrequently inhabits. His charitable decision not to evict Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira) has unexpected consequences.

Finally, the best story is your own. If you have immigrant ancestors (as most Americans do), you may want to learn more about your personal history. You can begin digging up your roots at Family Search.org. Who knows… you may discover a potential movie script in your own family tree!

Have we missed your favorite Fourth of July movie? If so, let everyone know

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