Like many public elementary school students before me, at some point I was required to memorize a few lines of “The New Colossus.” Written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, the poem was published originally as a fundraising tool for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Today, it’s engraved on a bronze plaque on the lower level.
I’ve never forgotten those words memorized on a long-ago school day:
“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!”
This stanza, in particular, has been funneling through my brain over the last few weeks, as immigrants from countries all over the world, Muslim and otherwise, question their status in the United States. Here in Sonoma County, where immigrants, undocumented and legal, have long contributed to the local economy, some cities are passing resolutions to safeguard the rights of all residents regardless of immigration status.
The legacy of immigration woven through our local food system runs through a few of the stories in our March/April issue. A feature on Clover Sonoma reveals that company founder Gene Benedetti was the son of Italian immigrants and that his ability to speak fluent Italian made him the perfect relay between Italian dairy farmers and the Petaluma Co-operative Creamery in the late 1940s. In a memoriam of the life of Iraj Soltani, longtime owner of Mac’s Diner in downtown Santa Rosa, we learn that Mr. Soltani originally immigrated from Iran in the 1960s. He went on to cultivate a diverse Kosher lunch counter for everyone, which Gabe Meline writes about in our Locavortex section. And we can’t forget the impact that Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, along with immigrants from Mexico and Central America, have had on the wine industry. The stories go on, and so do we. I, for one, yearn to see us continue to lift the lamp beside the golden door. It’s a work in progress, but the outpouring of civic commitment to the dignity of our local citizens has been inspiring. Do you have a story of immigration and/or food in Sonoma County to share? I’d love to hear it!
Leilani Clark| editor