Honoring the other immigrants on St. Patrick’s Day

They came to America in droves, forced from their own country by poverty and violence.
They were poor and uneducated. They worked hard, but few had skills. Their Catholicism isolated them. They did the jobs that Americans did not want.
Many ended up on the public dole, dependent on governmental and private handouts. Hated and resented by those around them, some formed gangs and resorted to crime. Americans were scared of them and angry at having to help support them. We wished they would go back to their home.
They were not Hispanics.
“The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses,” said an editorial in the Chicago Post in the 1850s. “Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.”
They collected by the millions in impoverished neighborhoods that Charles Dickens described as “hideous tenements which take their name from robbery and murder; all that is loathsome, drooping, and decayed is here.”
Early on, signs saying “Irish Need Not Apply” were common. At first, only those employers desperate for cheap labor hired them.
Even as popular resentment against the Irish immigrants rose, employers kept hiring them. They had a strong work ethic and were honest, traits employers sometimes struggled to find.
This created more nativist anger, as American workers feared the Irish were driving down their wages.
While the Irish immigrants were largely unskilled, they pushed their children to pursue education and develop skills. With each generation, they became more ingrained in American culture.
Not only did the Irish become more American, Americans became more Irish.
St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration not of what native-born Americans did for the Irish, but of what the Irish did for America. It took decades, but as prejudices subsided, Irish customs enriched American culture.
Ancestors of the once-despised Irish immigrants are employers and employees, executives and laborers. Several have been presidents.
The lesson of St. Patrick’s Day is that immigrants bring economic and cultural vitality to America. Sadly, it is a lesson we have forgotten in Alabama.



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Filed under Alabama politics, immigration

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