The Meaning Behind Neil Diamond’s Immigrant Anthem, “America”

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s and ’50s, Neil Diamond was surrounded by different cultures, descendants of those who emigrated to America before them. Diamond’s own grandparents were also immigrants with his mother’s side coming from Russia, and his father’s family emigrating from Poland.

As he began working on his album, The Jazz Singer, which served as the soundtrack to the 1980 film of the same name, Diamond wrote one particular song, an interpretation of the experience of immigration in the United States.

In the 1980 version of the film, Diamond also starred as a young Jewish man, Yussel Rabinovitch, who is torn between his religious life and becoming a performer.

The Meaning: In Tribute to Immigration

Opening the album is Diamond’s tribute to immigration in America, a country that always welcomed people from across the globe who wanted to find better opportunities. “America” follows the treacherous journey immigrants face, traveling far from home, without a home, and in search of more freedom.

We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star

Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream
On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America

Further in, Diamond’s lyrics recognize immigrants’ daily struggle, the uncertainty of living in a new country, and the excitement of a new beginning.

Don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

To a new and a shiny place
Make our bed and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm
Everywhere around the world

Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. All are expounded in the chorus.

They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America
Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

A “Gift” to His Grandparents

“To me, it is the story of my grandparents,” said Diamond. “It’s my gift to them, and it’s very real for me. Maybe that’s why it became so popular. It wasn’t thought out or intellectualized, just sheer emotion. In a way, it speaks to the immigrant in all of us. That’s what makes it so easy to empathize with the song.”

A hit for Diamond, “America” peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was his sixth No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. At the end of the song, Diamond recites Samuel Francis Smith’s early U.S. national anthem, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

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