NEW YORK - New York expects more than 50 million visitors in 2014, according to the city’s tourism department. Many of them flock to famous sites such as the Statue of Liberty, a copper-and-iron colossus given to the United States by the French and dedicated in 1886.
The monument to American freedom, at 93 meters or 305 feet tall, is a huge draw. And she’s so emblematic of the city that some tourists will shell out $5 to $10 for a photo even with a miniature, mobile version.
A recent tourist named Monica, making a day trip with her three children from Washington, D.C., didn’t have time to visit the actual statue. But the kids grabbed mock torches and other props to pose with a couple of Lady Liberty impersonators in mint-green masks and robes.
"I know it isn’t the real one," Monica said, referring to the statue, "but to be able to get up close and personal has great meaning to them on their first trip here to New York City."
Alberto is a statue impersonator. Like many of those VOA met, he’s originally from Latin America – Colombia, in his case.
"I make people happy," he said, his voice muffled as he spoke from behind his mint-green mask. "If someone is sad, I make them laugh. Kids like it a lot and that makes me like this job a lot more."
Alberto has been portraying Lady Liberty for four years. He calls his work a form of art and a way to survive in this country. While he doesn’t charge, he does ask for donations. It often takes as much as 14 hours to raise $100.
"Some people give more than others," he said. No matter what the amount, he said, he and other impersonators "do our job with all our heart and we welcome all tourists to New York. The Statue of Liberty will welcome you!"
They’re just like Lady Liberty herself, welcoming immigrants with her torch and the famous inscription from Emma Lazarus poem: "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
The quote remains as relevant and welcoming today it did when it was added, on a bronze plaque, to the statue’s pedestal in 1903.