The Lady Speaks

Happy St. Paddy’s Day

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Anyone feel a need for a history lesson this morning? Me either.

If you don’t know who Saint Patrick was or don’t know anything about him, go here.

St. Patrick’s Day is just a national excuse for a giant party, at least here in the US. It comes at the right time for those of us in the cold parts of the US – just as we’re all getting heartily tired of winter.

In my house, despite being full of non-Christians, non-pagans, and non-humans, St. Paddy’s is cause for celebration for two reasons.

The first being, we’re Irish. My paternal grandmother was the only daughter of two illegal immigrants, Patrick and Kate (Clark/e) Malloy, from County Meath and County Cork, respectively.

The other reason for celebrating is my maternal line’s fondness for the name. We’ve had a Patrick or Patricia in every generation, always named after their aunt/uncle, and always passing that name to their niece or nephew. For awhile the only real advantage to that name was the free Shamrock Shake you could get at Mickey D’s with proof of ID.

When you have a Pat – or Patty or Patt or Paddy – in the house, you just have to celebrate, even if all you’re celebrating is the coming of Spring. We have the traditional dinner of ham and cabbage with potatoes and carrots. We put shamrocks in the windows. We wear tacky, “Kiss Me. I’m Irish.” pins.

Like most of the US, we’ll have fun and laugh, but we won’t, I’m sure, take much time to think about today’s version of the hated Irish – Hispanics. So, I’m going to do that now.

When the Irish first began arriving in waves in the middle 1800’s, people were not too happy. Too many Irish were willing to work for any wage to provide for their (usually large) families. On top of which, many were Catholic – a religion few in the US could tolerate.

Boston, so noted for it’s Irish culture now, was a hotbed of hatred when the Irish influx became overwhelming.

From Tolerance.Org:

When a wave of Irish Catholic immigrants began arriving in the U.S. in the 1820s, they found a bitter welcome among the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority.

Newspapers described them as “Irish niggers” and “a mongrel mass of ignorance.” Many employers assigned Irish laborers to only the most menial and dangerous positions. Irish Catholicism was denounced with charges of superstition and perversion. In some cities, such as Philadelphia, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred erupted into violence.

Equally divisive as religious and ethnic differences, however, was the matter of immigration itself. In just half a century, native-born Americans had come to regard all newcomers as “them.”

In Pennsylvania public schools in the 1840s, daily lessons from the King James Bible were required by law. In the opinion of Philadelphia’s Protestant majority, this practice provided the moral underpinning of education.

[snip]

In Philadelphia, as in Boston, New York and most other large cities, anti-Catholic and “nativist” organizations opposed the integration of new immigrants into U.S. society.

One such organization was the American Republicans, a Protestant political party in Philadelphia that became heavily involved in the school Bible controversy.

From the official site of the Ancient Order of Hibernians:

Then in the 19th century, the rise of the Native American or face Georgia Know Nothing Party ushered in an era of unparalleled bigotry in America. Anti-Catholic, anti-Irish sentiment had originally come to the British colonies with the representatives of the Crown and that prejudice was manifested up to the time of the American Revolution.

The service of the Irish in Washington’s army mitigated the intensity of that intolerance to a degree, but the basic bigotry had already taken root. The great number of Irish Catholics who arrived diseased and destitute at the time of Ireland’s Great Hunger gave new fuel to those fires of bigotry which were still smouldering.

The massive influx of Irish, fleeing starvation in their native land, focused Know Nothing hatred on that unfortunate group, and on the Catholic Church which they supported. Employers closed their doors to Irish workers, and legislation, reminiscent of the penal laws, was sought against the immigrant population who, it was stated, diluted American principles.

Who would think it of Boston, with its great and public displays of Irishness today? Who would think it of America, as its citizens prepare to parade and wave the Irish flag and drink themselves into stupors? We’re the great “melting pot.”

Truth be told, America only allows a group to “melt” into the pot once it finds another one to hate. The Irish – despite all the heroism displayed during the Mexican-American and Civil wars – weren’t fully accepted until after the Civil War, when freed slaves and Chinese immigrants became the new target.

From nearly its founding, intolerance has been an American institution. The Pilgrims wouldn’t allow other Protestant sects to “corrupt” their faith. Protestants didn’t want Catholics. Pale northern Europeans didn’t want darker southern Europeans. And so on, and so on.

I suppose today’s Hispanic immigrants could take comfort that in 100 years or so, we’ll be celebrating Cinco de Mayo as a national party and picking on some other group who made the mistake of believing the Statue of Liberty spoke for America.

“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Happy St. Paddy’s.

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March 17, 2007 - Posted by | America, Family, Holidays, St Patrick

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