17 March 2009

Tempest-tossed (two-boat) Irish Immigrants not welcomed in U.S.

While the history of the "No Irish Need Apply" signs may have grown in the telling, there was resistance to Irish immigration to the United States; the Ku Klux Klan greeted the newcomers (with their unpopular Christian religion and their strangely fair skin) with the intolerance, rumors about lifestyle, and prejudice previously reserved for non-white people. Perhaps the KKK was confused by the term "Black Irish." There is abundant evidence that such "NINA" signs were prevalent among a certain class in London in the early 1800s, (the British had famously broken away from the Catholic Church under Henry VIII) and scattered elsewhere throughout continental Europe, and no doubt they appeared in the USA as many Irish were fleeing violence and famine in their native land - arriving in America full of dreams and hope.

Regardless, today the President of the United States, Barack Obama, traces some of his ancestry to the Emerald Isle, and one of the better-known "ethnic" holidays in the USA is St. Patrick's Day, and people from all walks of life will take note of it today. Many will adopt caricatures of Irishness for the day, hats fit for a Leprechaun, green buttons and shirts saying "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" as they celebrate Irish culture, tradition, and people. Reporters and journalists across the country will cover people across the country enjoying parades and parties where people sing in faux accents, marvel about Irish jigs, drink beverages from Ireland, and put an O in front of their last name while overlooking the fact they'd never venture into a Catholic church and aren't quite sure how to pronounce shillelagh.

This is a success Americans could do well to reflect on as they consider their current struggle with immigration laws and issues. More than a president noted for an ethnically rich heritage, the United States is a country strengthened by the nature of being an alloy of many cultures and philosophies. The Irish endured invasions over the centuries, yet retained a unique (albeit somewhat misunderstood) cultural identity: both unity and diversity persist proudly on that one smallish island. Surely there is room in the United States for all who dream of freedom and hope to improve their lives.
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.
It's time for the great minds of American leadership to embrace the American dream, to bring immigrants who treasure the opportunities embodied into our constitution into full participation in our way of life. They must be required to abide by our laws, to value their citizenship and patriotism as highly as their neighbors, to participate in our democracy in every way, and if they don't want to participate wearing green on St. Patrick's Day they must at least recognize that it's about more than a Catholic saint - it's about valuing diversity by walking a mile in somebody else's shoes for one day each year.

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