Irish American month reminds us of ethnic inequalities for Syrians


courtesy of MCT Campus

Richard Smith leads the way during the St. Patricks Day parade at Shandon Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.

by Bridget Murphy, Reporter

March does not only dedicate one day to the Irish– St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th– but the whole month. During March, 44 million Irish Americans celebrate their ancestry by joining in parades, celebrating through Mass, dancing, and family gatherings.

Many throughout America show their Irish reverence by wearing green, even if they aren’t technically Irish. (Otherwise they would be pinched!)

Irish-American Heritage Month is dedicated to all of the Irish-Americans and their ancestors who have helped the formation of our country.

Between 1820 and 1975, 4.7 million Irish immigrants came into the United States.

In 2002, more than 34 million Americans considered themselves to be of Irish ancestry, making Irish Americans the country’s second-largest ethnic group.”

— PBS Destination America

The American Foundation for Irish Heritage wanted to “have the same national recognition as other ethnic cultural celebrations, such as National African-American History/Black History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, and Asia/Pacific-American Heritage Month.”

Without the Irish-Americans, there is no saying where our country would be today. Many Irish-Americans have made a lasting impact on America, including John F. Kennedy (civil rights activist and 35th president of the U.S.), Walt Disney (producer and entrepreneur), Eileen Collins (female astronaut), and Nellie Bly (journalist).

When we think of the Irish today, most think of green, leprechauns, clovers, potatoes, and a big pot o’ gold, but the Irish were not always connected with warm thoughts and fun traditions.

When the Irish first came to America, many people opposed their immigration. There were stereotypes held against the Irish. A majority of Americans shared a dislike for Catholicism at the time, the dominant religion of the Irish.

For example, in the early 1900’s, Boston mayor, John P. Bigelow, stood with the Anti-Irish groups. These groups believed immigration into Boston was causing the city’s widespread “drunkenness and violence,” a strong stereotype assigned to the Irish.

History is now repeating itself. All of the current candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election have been faced with the question, “How do you plan to handle Syrian refugees?” This is a heavy-weighing factor, dividing voters. Many people do not want Syrian refugees, Syrian-Americans, or Muslim-Americans in the U.S. because they are scared of the potential violence that could accompany them. This is not justified. Recent Congressional hearings have debated the small number of refugees who may also have terrorist ties.

In Maryland, Governor Hogan opposes the idea of letting Syrian refugees into the U.S.. Hogan does not want any Syrian refugees immigrating to America “until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety,” he stated on his Facebook page.

Like the Irish, Muslim-Americans and Syrian refugees are stereotyped based on the actions of others who are of the same race or religion. Suspicion of Catholicism seems to have been replaced by suspicion of Islam.

The Irish’s only option was to come to America. Ireland was devastated when disease hit their homeland and destroyed the production of their most prized crop: potatoes. The potato famine caused approximately 1 million deaths in Ireland, and it caused approximately 2 million more to flee, according to the History channel.

In the same way, more than 11 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes. The amount of violence that has erupted recently in Syria is overwhelming.  Surrounded by chemical weapons, war crimes, violent uprisings, and civil war, it is no wonder many Syrian citizens want to emigrate.

Like the Irish, American culture would not be the same without Syrians whose families immigrated to the United States. Some famous Syrian Americans include Steve Jobs (Apple co-founder), Mona Simpson (award-winning novelist – Jobs’s biological sister), Jerry Seinfeld (actor and comedian), and Paula Abdul (singer-songwriter).

How long will it take for Americans to accept the Syrian refugees like we now accept the Irish?  It seems almost impossible to imagine that sometime in the future we could have a whole month to recognize Syrian-Americans–but why not?

Irish American heritage month gives Americans the opportunity to appreciate the immigrants from Ireland. Many do not realize the importance of new people in the United States. Having immigrants, refugees and other people in the U.S. can change our history and our future–for the better.