Once upon a time, there was a sleepy dot on the edge of the known world called New Amsterdam. You’d never believe it now, but that famous skyline is a fairly recent development. Would you ever have thought that an eleven story building could be considered a skyscraper? Back in 1889, it was a steel-beamed marvel and rubberneckers gathered to watch at a safe distance to see if the ambitious project at 50 Broadway would tumble down in high winds. Then, in just 26 years, the first skyscraper in Manhattan would be torn down to make room for a 30 story building.
The city of New York has been many things to many people. A home to the Mohegan tribe, a new frontier, a place to farm, a fort and a military target, a place to strike it rich, be an artist, to work, to live, and to dream. Year after year, decade after decade, the people of New York have a presence as distinct as its skyline. Even the newspapers of the past all preserve a New York that was, at the time of my grandfather Generoso Pope Sr., a place of fabulous wealth, opulence and glamour, and the most grinding poverty imaginable. Most of all, New York remains the city where people seek opportunity. Opportunity was once a steerage ticket and three dollars a week. It was that opportunity plus luck, hard work, and ambition made a young immigrant into a man who helped shape that skyline and shape the immigrants of New York into Americans.
Immigrants have built that skyline, built the city brick by brick and block by block. Italians, Chinese, Irish, Jews, Germans, French, Koreans, Indians, Puerto Ricans, Africans, and others from every country in the world. From the earliest immigrants to the newest arrivals on our shores, immigrants are part of America. My grandfather, an Italian immigrant, built the skyline of New York with his company, Colonial Sand & Stone. Under his leadership, Colonial Sand & Stone went on to be the largest building supply company in the nation. His work lives today in Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge and Radio City Music Hall.
On a September morning, fourteen years ago, that skyline was changed by a horrible act. It changed the skyline, and Ground Zero echoes to this day with the loss of all who perished in the towers of the World Trade Center in those terrible hours. We remember them, and vow to rebuild not only the structures, but the optimism, perseverance, and desire to do better that called millions to these shores. You can tear down a building, but you cannot alter a fundamental characteristic of New Yorkers. You can knock us down, but we get back on our feet again.
Immigrants become Americans as much as the skyline of a city is composed of feats of engineering and architecture. While the new rises on the ruins of the old, we must never forget our past and the struggles of our forebears to reach America, the dangers and hardships they endured, and the prejudice they faced any more than we should forget the towers that fell and the lives that were lost on September 11th.