Today, everyone is Irish! St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicago where the river is dyed green and people enjoy not one, but two parades. The Irish are loud and proud, and those who are not Irish wish they were.
But when the Irish first arrived in the U.S. as immigrants, they weren’t so welcome. They were viewed as an “inferior race” who by nature were violent alcoholics, and they were regularly blamed for all of society’s ills. Many suggested mass deportation to deal with the “Irish problem.” Many employers refused to hire Irish–especially in predominantly English cities like Boston. “No Irish Need Apply” was found on many job postings. The “NINA” addendum gave birth to a number of folk songs in the late 1800’s. HERE is Pete Seeger’s version.
Today, the U.S. has absorbed St. Patrick’s Day into the mainstream and we don’t hear about the “Irish Problem” anymore. However, the narrative of immigrants as the cause of social ills remains, and new immigrants still face discrimination and mistrust.
Questions for Reflection
Who are are identified as the “Problem” immigrants today? Why do you think we identify some immigrants a problem and not others?
We often pride ourselves in being able to incorporate elements of immigrant cultures (food, music, language) into the American mainstream. How has your life been enriched by immigrant culture?