Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Neutrally 'Irish'

In the 1870s, something really bad happened. I wasn't there and I had nothing to do with it -- it didn't happen to me, and it wasn't done by me.

A bunch of people from one island came to another island. The people from the first island persecuted the people from the second island because of religious, linguistic, and other cultural differences.

After having their church burned and their lives threatened by people from the first island, a bunch of people from the second island fled to Canada where they could freely practice Catholicism and not have to deal with foreigners threatening to kill them.

Some of those people married native-born Canadians (many of whom, as history would have it, were descendants of people from the first island). Together, they begat children. Two of their children who were born in Canada but later settled in the United States are my maternal grandparents.

None of this really means that much to me. I've never really thought of myself as "Irish" because I'm not. I wasn't born there, I've never been there, and I don't even know anyone who was born there. Anything *Irish* that I do is just a reflection of old-world customs becoming part of American culture. I'm sure I view St. Patrick's Day through the same American lens with which I see Cinco de Mayo (mainly, as an excuse to celebrate with friends).

I have Irish-looking features, or so I'm told. If anything, that's probably a bonus in this area, so I'll take it.

But as a tea-swilling, Economist-reading, Cockney rhyming slang-slinging, non-denominational Protestant Anglophile, I certainly bear no grudge against anyone from the first island to which I was referring. Besides, somewhere down the line, the UK is where I get my last name.

I love Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, and I still listen to the BNL -- but I don't really identify with Canadians, either. I mean, they're great neighbors and NATO allies, but I've never considered myself "half-Canadian" any more than I've considered myself "half-Pennsylvanian." I have a bunch of relatives in Canada, but I've never met them.

I don't really have any opinion about the Celtics mascot, the Notre Dame mascot, or the Lucky Charms guy. Then again, no one's ever asked me. But if they did, I wouldn't even know what to say. I wouldn't feel uniquely qualified to answer.

I don't have any issue with anyone else's connection to their heritage to, and connection with, other countries and cultures. Many of my closest friends are first- or second-generation Americans themselves, and I'm always interested in their stories. I live in an immigrant city and I am always fascinated to learn about how people got here from Cambodia, Vietnam, Rwanda, or Kenya. I love to trade thoughts with them about what 'America' means to us -- how we perceive it, how we celebrate it, and what parts of it we wish were different.

All I'm really saying is that personally, I've never really felt any connection to anywhere else. If I really stopped and thought about it, yes, I'm descended from some isles in the North Atlantic.

But I almost never do. It's not something I'm ashamed of or proud of.

I'm just sort of neutral about it, I guess.


KD said...

Why these thoughts? Is it because Irish heritage is a major focus point in Massachusetts?

Did you get in a brawl over your "Yea Irish! Lucky Charms Guy For President" posters that you plastered on the side of the British Embassy last weekend? I'm curious.

The New Englander said...


Not sure why I wrote about that then. Maybe Cinco de Mayo made me think about heritage/connection to other countries, which for me has always just been a big blank spot. Not in a bad way, but like I said, just in a neutral sort of way.

I'm sure the British weren't laughing at the embassy gag, but maybe it was a respite from all the Obama-Clinton recriminations in the news.

How about Putin and Medvedev instead?