On St. Patrick’s Day, while so many of us are donning green and chugging brightly colored beer, few can recall the significance of the Irish holiday. Donald Trump appears to be ignorant of the history as well. The Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, though, in a press conference in the White House, does remember the history and he was quick to remind Trump and Americans that without immigration, there would be no St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick and his legacy. He too of course was an immigrant. And though he is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe he’s also a symbol of — indeed the patron of — immigrants.
Here in America, in your great country, 35 million people claim Irish heritage, and the Irish have contributed to the economic, social, political, and cultural life of this great country over the last 200 years. Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed.
And four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans. We lived the words of John F. Kennedy long before he uttered them: We asked not what America can do for us, but what we could do for America. And we still do.
Here’s the video:
"We were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore," Irish prime minister says with Donald Trump in the room. pic.twitter.com/7jEfTVvIzE
— Barry Malone (@malonebarry) March 17, 2017
While Kenny never mentioned Trump’s name, it was clear who the intended recipient of the message was. Donald Trump is part of a larger nationalist movement across much of the Western world. Immigrants, as they’ve been throughout much of history, have become the source of blame for all that’s wrong with certain voters’ lives.
The Irish know a little something about being victims of anti-immigration sentiment. The Irish were a large part of American history, but they weren’t always accepted into mainstream society as they are now.
The Irish were ostracized from American society for many things besides just being newcomers. The Irish were ostracized for being Catholic. Many Protestants and “native” Americans were distrustful of a religion that was, as they viewed it, highly irregular with its beads, meditative prayers to Jesus’ mother, oils, saints and statues. The Irish were also categorized as angry, alcoholic beings–( the term “don’t get your Irish up”, stemmed from a stereotypical belief in the volatile Irish temper) who drank all the time in saloons and had regular bar brawls and parties filled with revelry and debauchery. They were illiterate, greedy,–therefore desperate to make it “Micks on the Make”–their families were too clannish, bred like rabbits, and the Irish were entirely figured to be a stupid servant race by the Bostonians and most of “native” America. These images were portrayed in the daily Boston and New York newspapers, photographs, and other media of the time. Those looking to escape these stereotypes and rise above them to be part of American society like Joseph P. Kennedy, had to work hard and take many knocks before any change was rendered.
In other words, today’s ostracized immigrants become tomorrow’s John F. Kennedys and Bill Gates. That’s something to think about before reflexively turning everyone away at our shores.
Featured image via video screen capture.