Right Foot Revelation: Rethinking an American Symbol

I need to get one thing out of the way before I even get into this post. I am a native New Yorker and I have never been to the Statue of Liberty. There. Get it all out now... All the, “I can’t believe he’s never been-s,” and all the, “Imagine living in New York and never having visited the Statue of Liberty-s!” There are a bunch of other places of interest I have not visited in the Big Apple, but that’s for another post. I won’t bore you with the reasons I never visited and to be honest, until today I thought I knew all that there was to know about this gift from the French, but boy was I wrong.

I had the serendipitous luck to be walking past 1-204 on my way to the office last week when I heard Ms. Mahoney talking to her class about the Statue of Liberty. My heels dug into the floor and I about-faced into her room to offer the class an impromptu read aloud of Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers. Eager to share this book that I had merely glossed through, I high-tailed it back to the library and grabbed the book. As soon as I sat down, I know this was going to be a special read-aloud.

Immediately, I was taken with the illustrations and artwork executed by Shawn Harris. The book starts in France and the hand-painted collages with their kitschy nostalgia instantly reminded me of I Love Lucy when the Ricardos and the Mertzes travelled to Paris. The color palette is sheer vintage perfection and the use of collage is magical in the depth and interest it creates alongside the text. I could spend more time on the illustrations alone, but the text was equally as magical, I think. Eggers’ voice is so clear and his use of language really spoke to me. I don’t say that lightly. I really felt like he was talking directly to me. Truly a super mix of conversation and information. It was fun to read, and (based on the laughter and smiles) fun to listen to.

This book taught me a great deal about the Statue of Liberty. Great little tidbits that would appear as answers on Jeopardy or as hints in a crossword puzzle. I will leave all those fabulous bits for you to discover, but the crux of this book and the best piece of knowledge I came away with is found right in the book’s title. Eggers masterfully distills all the symbolism and lore of this iconic statue into one (admittedly large) body part: Her Right Foot.   

During a visit to the Statue of Liberty, Eggers realized that the Statue was not standing nor was she static. She was in motion, and recognizing the arched right foot in mid stride was something of a watershed moment for him and for me. He refers to it in his author’s note on Amazon as a “thunderclap” moment and I can see why it was. I have always taken her curious stance to be one of gentility or decorum. I never had a clue that she was is on the move or that this raised right heel or Eggers’ revelation could mean so much in the present day.

It has been 512 days, 7 hours, 25 minutes, and 35 seconds since the winter of our discontent commenced. In less than 2 years, everything that symbolized America has been tarnished by an administration hell bent on propagating xenophobia, hatred, intolerance, white supremacy, and hypocrisy. The push to slam the lid on the melting pot is real, but these are my thoughts. This is my blog and I can say what I want, but I do not want my students to be miniature echo chambers. I want them to make up their own minds.

So what does a teacher do? What does a teacher do when so many of his students come from undocumented families? What does he do when he wants to get across ideas without personal biases clouding those ideas? What does he do to replenish hope and impart knowledge of what America really is? He reads Her Right Foot aloud to his students. More than once.  He makes connections to global issues. He does so in a way that presents concepts and facts as they are without editorializing. He encourages discussion and then some more discussion.

I am absolutely in love with this book. The revelation that she is walking purposefully to meet all those that come to America in search of a better life, untethered by the chains that bound her, act as symbols of hope and welcome. This book is a reminder, a cautionary tale, and a rebuke to all those that are trying to make this country fit their ideal rather than the ideals that have made us who and what we are today.