OKAY, SO IT WASN'T exactly your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and probably when Emma Lazarus wrote of Liberty raising her lamp beside the golden door, she wasn't thinking of the New York State Lottery; specifically, she probably wasn't thinking about Lotto, a game that inspires many people, but not necessarily to poetry.
Nevertheless, it was nice to see that crowd of 21 men who work at the Hantscho factory in Mount Vernon, N.Y., grinning for the camera over their jointly held lucky number in the New York State Lottery. There were black and white and Oriental faces in the bunch. They were mostly first-generation, hailing from (among other places) Poland, China, Trinidad, Thailand, Yugoslavia, Hungary. "These guys are like a cross section of America, with every ethnic, racial and religious group represented," a vice president of the company told The New York Times.
They will divide among themselves one-third of a $41 million jackpot (two other individual winners showed up a bit later) that had New York in a frenzy, with people standing in line for hours to get tickets for the growing prize. For the workers at Hantscho (they make printing presses there), it will come to about $25,000 a year after taxes, a nice piece of the American Dream.
But wait a minute, say the purists. That's not what the American Dream is about. It's about hard work, sacrificing for the future, seizing the opportunity and making the most of it -- all America offers is the chance to earn it on your own.
For the most part that's true. But there's also an element of just plain luck in quite a few of those success stories. The man who picked the winning number for his co-workers, a Paraguayan immigrant with the sonorous name of Celso Garcete, pulled it out of the air. "It was nothing but pure chance," he said.
A good many people who think they've made it on their own -- immigrants and others -- might take this as a reminder that they, too, have probably had a bit of good fortune somewhere along the way, and that if fortune seems to smile more frequently in this country than in some others it's because of the wealth created by the efforts, day in and day out, of their fellow citizens.