Pensamientos About St. Patrick’s Day
There was a time in America when the Irish were not welcomed. There were signs in the windows of business saying, “No Irish.” or “No Irish Need Apply.” It was said that these refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease-ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and
strain welfare budgets. They practiced an alien religion and pledged allegiance to a foreign leader. They were bringing with them crime. They were
accused of being rapists. And, worst of all, these undesirables were Irish.
Today we hear the same thing only this time it is the Mexicans that are the burnt of the attacks. How does one fight off such attacks today? The same way the Irish did in the 19th century, by getting organized and voting. No hay otra.
THE IRISH FIND THEIR FOOTING—AT THE BALLOT BOX
Although stereotyped as ignorant bogtrotters loyal only to the Pope and ill-suited for democracy, the Irish were deeply engaged in the political process in
their new home. They voted in higher proportions than other ethnic groups. Their sheer numbers helped to propel William R. Grace to become the first
Irish-Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880 and Hugh O’Brien the first Irish-Catholic mayor of Boston four years later.
A generation after the “Great Hunger”, the Irish controlled powerful political machines in cities across the United States and were moving up the social ladder into the middle class as an influx of immigrants from China and Southern and Eastern Europe took hold in the 1880s and 1890s. “Being from the British Isles, the Irish were now considered acceptable and assimilable to the American way of life,” Dolan writes.
Now it was another ethnic and racial group’s turn to bear the brunt. No longer embedded on the lowest rung of American society, the Irish unfortunately
gained acceptance in the mainstream by dishing out the same bigotry toward newcomers that they had experienced. CountyCork native and Workingmen’s Party leader Denis Kearney, for example, closed his speeches to American laborers with his rhetorical signature: “Whatever happens, the Chinese must go.”
Kearney and the other Irish failed to learn the lesson of their own story. Yes, the Irish transformed the United States, justas the United States transformed
the Irish. But the worst fears of the nativists were not fulfilled. The refugees from the Great Hunger and the 32 million Americans with predominantly
Irish roots today strengthened the United States, not destroyed it. A country that once reviled the Irish now wears green on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s something to raise a glass to.
Alfredo R. Santos c/s.
Copyright 2018 by Alfredo Santos, La Voz Newspaper – March/April, 2018
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