Orange County School of the Arts

A note on my name, to President Trump

My name is Zena Meyer. Meyer is a pretty common name, so my parents decided to balance that out by finding an obscure and semi-unpronounceable first name. Though Meyer is a traditionally German last name, the Romanian side of the family has it because in their travels searching for safety, they dropped a Jewish surname to take the equivalent of “Smith.”

The Russian side of my family had a similar story of persecution. One by one, they made their way to New York City to pursue a better life.

Zeena was their daughter, and she came to New York in the early 1920’s. She got a job in a sweatshop making hats, and worked hard enough so her two daughters (my grandmother and grand-aunt) could get a college education. I was named after her, which is why my name is Zena– my parents decided to throw out the extra “e.”

As I grew older, I learned how to politely correct people who misspelled my name, and I learned about my roots and became proud of them. I also learned more about America, and became proud of my country. With the Junior State of America and the U.S. Senate Youth Program, I learned the history of our great country. A speaker I heard in Washington D.C. summed it up best when he observed that “America is not a flawless country, but it is a great country.”

I know about America’s scars– our genocides of Native Americans, our colonialism and imperialism, our military-industrial complex, our oppression of minorities, our systemic racism. But I believe that that we were formed on a basis of hope, freedom, and equality. I knew that our nation was built on stories like my great-grandmother’s– the story of 17-year-old girls who fled oppression and worked hard and to participate in shaping the country.

Because of this faith, I became passionate about serving this nation, in any or all ways possible. I focused my efforts on public policy that would benefit the people who our nation had oppressed. I strive toward doing all the good I can, for all the people I can, in all the ways I can, as long as I ever can.

Even on election night, when a man so contrary to our nation’s ideals became president, I had faith that our democracy would persist. The Founding Fathers crafted a system so genius it would withstand anything. Even through Cabinet appointments I saw as horrendous, I marveled at the peaceful transition of power that defined our country.

I came to doubt our nation’s greatness last night. On Jan. 29, President Trump signed an Executive Order that blocks citizens from seven nations from entering the United States for the next 120 days and stops Syrian refugees from entering the country indefinitely.

In this act, I see a country turning its back on the values that define us. When the president takes illogical, racist steps like these that tear apart families, kill dreams, and destroy hope, that’s not the America I know and love and want to serve.

When my great grandmother sailed into New York, she saw the Statue of Liberty shining bright on the horizon. On the pedestal of the Statue, there is a poem by a Emma Lazarus, a child of immigrants. This poem reads,

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “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-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We can’t “Make America Great Again” if we toss aside the values that made America great. America is the place for stories like the story of my family. It’s a place where “even orphan immigrants can make a difference and rise up,” as “Hamilton” quotes. It’s a place where somehow, freedom and justice can prevail.

To so many, America is a golden door. It’s a place of safety. It’s a place where someone can get an education. It’s a place where families can grow. It’s a place where we can all contribute. That is what makes America great. So why, President Trump, are you slamming the golden door on people who want to make this country great, simply because of where they’re from? It’s not where we’re from, it’s where we’re going. And I hope we’re going somewhere that our great-grandchildren will be proud of.


  • Reply enigmainblackcom January 31, 2017 at 8:13 am

    Very much enjoyed this post. Thank you!


  • Reply unclesmrgol February 3, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    I voted for Mr. Trump. I feel as you do, and, if you notice, Mr. Trump seems to have moderated his talk considerably concerning immigration, and has promised that he will do something for the Dreamers. In addition, he is concentrating on those illegals who have committed felonies, and is avoiding acting on anyone else here illegally. So there is hope, but you won’t be listened to if you don’t treat him with at least some respect, for he’s obviously a rather rough guy and will push back in an instant if he thinks he’s been unfairly maligned. I do not disagree with his decision regarding people coming from the seven countries Mr. Obama earlier named as “countries of concern” when he restricted visa rights; it was Mr. Obama who chose the countries Mr. Trump has acted upon with his “extreme vetting”. Mr. Obama chose those countries with good reason, considering the unstable nature of their governments — instability to the point where some countries cannot vouch for the citizenship of anyone coming from them. Other countries, such as Iran, are performing acts which threaten our Jewish friends in Israel, including creating nuclear weapons and missiles capable of carrying them.

    Emma Lazarus’ poem has always been one of my favorites, and I expect that although you and I may disagree on many things, there is one really important one we don’t disagree upon: America, for all of its many faults, has always been a land of opportunity for those willing to work. There is a vitality and earnestness in America which draws people from all over the world. I will leave you with one more quote — one from Abraham Lincoln’s 1855 letter to Joshua Speed:

    ” I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”


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