Somewhere to Be
Text and photos by Bernice Elizabeth Green
While the drama in Manhattan’s Watson Hotel – between refugee adult men who refused to move, the media and asylum seeker supporters from all over the city-played out, this writer was sent to cover the Brooklyn side of the story of the standoff.
There were no huddled masses outside in the cold of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Tuedsay. We observed a couple of buses bringing men into the area through security. The men looked cold, and wherever they were going inside, it would be warmer and a lot better than where they were.
Turns out there was a story prefaced by the words written on scraps of 8 ½ by 11 construction paper attached to the north fence just outside the entry to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook Brooklyn, Tuesday.
I am kind.
I am alive.
I am intelligent.
I am important.
They were a fitting enough response to Emma Lazarus’s poem, The New Colossus, inscribed at the base of America’s best-known welcomer. Written in 1883, the words seemed hopeful enough to refugees from all over the world for 140 years.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
“Your huddled masses yearning
to breathe free,
“The wretched refuse of your
“Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me,
“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But on Tuesday, grown men were refusing to be removed from The Watson, where they said they felt more comfortable, to the Brooklyn shelter, where they said the food was not good, the bathrooms inadequate; the conditions, unsuitable; not enough heat. It seemed, for want of a better word, un-American.
Around 3pm, some of the most unconservative people we know questioned what was going on. They had learned that the migrant move was intended to bring families and children into The Watson. Were the protests of the migrants – all single men — camped outside the hotel reasonable? Were they being “coerced”? Protesting too much, biting the hand that attempted to feed.
On Tuesday, too, New York City Mayor Eric Adams visited the site to check it out. He found it to be okay: warm and habitable.
By Wednesday night the men outside The Watson were moved to Brooklyn.
Another sign on that fence read “Bienvenido.” Welcome – a word at the crux of the New York City promise. Like America, New York always looks good from a distance. Close-up, it can be cold and warm and hot, at the same time.
And attractive to all who come here, to all who choose to stay.