May 16, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much, Steve. Everybody, there are so many people who brought us to this moment. You’ve heard so many names called out and there are so many more. But I want to dwell on Stephen Briganti for a moment because this is extraordinary to me. Thirty-seven years, for 37 years he has labored to make sure that the Statue and Ellis Island, and now this great museum, would be all that they were meant to be for the people of this country and this world. This is the ultimate definition of a labor of love. Can we just thank Stephen Briganti for all he has done?
Now, everything I said to you was 100 percent factual and objective but I have to share with you that I have another strong connection and strong feeling for Stephen Briganti because he is my cousin.
And we both – our families hail, the Briganti family, from a small town called Grassano in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy. And the town of Grassano is distant and way up a mountain. It’s not a town that’s ever been rich. It’s a hard [inaudible] place. And our common ancestors came from there. And at this moment I think of them. I think of my grandmother, Anna Briganti. I think of my grandfather, Giovanni de Blasio. I think of Chirlane’s grandparents who came from St. Lucia and Barbados to New York – Valdemar Edwards and Irene Quashie Edwards.
We think of the people whose shoulders we stand on and we think of their bravery. We think about what it must have been to board that ship bound for the unknown, to have the bravery, to have the strength to believe that they could create something new in a different land. We honor them today.
And it certainly says something about the greatness of America that two cugini here have both been able, in our own ways, to serve and give back – and that this country continues to embrace all of us no matter where we come from.
I want to thank all of the others who made this day possible. I have to say, we have only scratched the surface of the contribution, the energy, the focus that was brought to this effort but that force of nature known as Diane von Furstenberg. Thank you, Diane.
And to Albert Bellas and John – let me get it right – Piltzecker and Dan Smith, and to the elected officials who are with us from far and wide – Lieutenant Governor, thank you –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Italian]
So, this museum, like the Statue of Liberty itself, it’s a beacon of hope, of unity, and of understanding. It tells a story and it’s not just a story of a monument, it’s a story of a people. It’s a story of everyday people, working people. It’s not about the famous names. It’s about the unknown names, the forgotten names who came here from so many countries, the countless people who built up this nation who we have to, every day, honor and remember. All they asked for was a chance to work hard and be rewarded fairly. And we owe everything to them.
Today, with that history in mind, we have to acknowledge that we’re grappling with a set of realities right before our eyes. The America of 2019 needs this museum, it needs everything that this museum, this statue represents. We need to be reminded because we’re in an identity crisis right now as a nation and we’re figuring out who we are. And it’s not the first time it’s happened in our history.
There have been plenty of moments where we had to decide what was our truest nature. And it can be painful, it can be a difficult moment in our common American experience when we have these questions, when we have these doubts. But so much of this challenge, so much of this question is tied up in the notion of immigration itself. But in so many ways, immigration is the founding and unifying element of the American experience. It’s so much of what it means to be American. Immigration defines us and therefore it shouldn’t divide us. And we can’t, as a people, be at peace. We can’t be truly secure when we’re in conflict with ourselves.
So we have to figure this out together. We have to come to peace with who we are. And there are American values we need to return and fight for in order to achieve our greatest potential. And it’s a time to bridge and heal, and that’s what we celebrate today. And that starts right here in the shade of this magnificent beacon which has stood for all of us for so long as the greatest symbol of unity and common humanity the world has ever known.
My friends, my sisters and brothers, it does take hard work – it takes a lot of work – but all we need to remember is this, this is who we are and as was said in that pledge in the beginning, ‘One nation indivisible.’ We celebrate that today.
Thank you and God bless you all.