Celebrate – and Honor – the Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day

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by US Rep.
Brendan Boyle
St Patrick’s Day is always a fun and festive time in Philadelphia and throughout America. But it is important to take a moment and reflect on the Irish experience in America, and what it means to all of us as Americans, whether or not we have Irish ancestry.
One of my favorite monuments in Philadelphia is the Irish Great Hunger Memorial (“An Gorta Mor”) that sits on Penn’s Landing. It is both beautiful and haunting.
The Irish are America’s first major wave of immigrants. They were refugees, fleeing grinding poverty and hunger, brought about by British colonial occupation.
When they arrived in America, they were not welcome. America at that time was largely an Anglo and Protestant country. In fact, the Irish immigrants were so strongly discriminated against that an entire political party was launched in the 1850s – The American Party, sometimes called the “Know Nothings” – dedicated to opposing Irish immigrants. A former President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, ran under the party’s banner.
Yet with a strong faith in God and belief in the American Dream, through hard work and determination, these immigrants and their descendants overcame poverty and discrimination to achieve great heights.
Today, Irish Americans are very much part of the American mainstream. So much so, many Americans don’t even know this history.
Today, like when Irish immigrants first came to America, the topic of immigration is a controversial one in our country. In fact, some of the same exact things that were said about the Irish are now said about today’s immigrants:
“They’re lazy.”
“They will change America.”
“They have an alien religion.”
The Irish, like so many subsequent waves of immigrants – including those that brought Italians, Poles, Jews, Chinese, and others to our shores – have had these slurs hurled at them. As we grapple with setting the right immigration laws and policies, it is instructive to remember this history.
I have absolutely no doubt that the descendants of today’s immigrants will achieve the American Dream, just like the Irish immigrants who paved the way almost two centuries ago.
So, on this St. Patrick’s Day, as we celebrate Irish culture with parades, special foods, music, dancing, and wearing green, let’s take a moment to toast the people of Ireland and what they have done to build America. Let’s all honor their memory, by showing respect and compassion for the immigrants of today.

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