Have Irish Americans forgotten they come from a ‘sh**hole’ country too?

Young Irish can help make America great again, and inform US about what Ireland really represents

Emmet Lyons (24) is living in New York City on a J-1 visa, currently interning for the New York Democrats and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

Emmet Lyons (24) is living in New York City on a J-1 visa, currently interning for the New York Democrats and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

 

It’s the little details that remind you of your alien status when you’re an Irishman residing in the United States. Your new friends tease you for your inability to pronounce a ‘th’ suffix. Those around you are enamoured by your accent and you have to constantly brace yourself for the next woeful impersonation.

As an immigrant to the world’s most powerful nation, you are highly aware of the history, the culture and the nuances that form this big and beautiful country. Yet many Americans know almost nothing about your home - only the old stereotypes that no longer reflect your nation.

There is the cringey notion that because you’re Irish, you have a natural affinity with leprechauns. References are constantly made to potatoes without any understanding of the historical context and why Ireland is synonymous with potatoes. These comments aren’t coming from older American people either. These are casual comments made by my fellow millennials, the supposed champions of multiculturalism and a “wokeness”.

To be fair to my American friends, there is no malicious intent in any of it. It’s understandable in many ways. Young attitudes in this country have been shaped by a pop culture that still shows Ireland to be an inward-looking nation; so much so that Saturday Night Live aired a St Patrick’s Day sketch last month where the comedic premise was that the Irish favoured inbreeding over external relationships.

In the grand scheme of things, these are little details. For immigrants of a different religion or colour, mine are minor complaints in comparison to the systemic difficulties that they will face here. The Irish have ‘made it’ in America. What is more grating now is the fact that many advocates of today’s bigotry are of Irish descent themselves.

There is a visibly green block of the Trump electorate. A large portion of the president’s allies and enablers have names of Irish lineage such as Spicer, Ryan, Hannity and Bannon. These are figures who have every intent of being malicious and their actions have demonstrated it.

In their desire to “Make America Great Again”, this nativist wing of Irish America sees the bigoted policies and hallow economic promises made by Donald Trump as America’s best path forward. They want the 1950s back. How quickly they have forgotten that it was their ancestors who once arrived from a “sh**hole” country with nothing but the promise of better. Progress has given way to regression.

Considering this picture of Irish America, the ability to project the image of a liberal and global Ireland in the American consciousness is an opportunity. Young Irish expats and prominent Irish figures can inform the United States about what Ireland now represents. In doing so, perhaps we can highlight the principles that have made the US such an inspiring symbol in the past.

We now have ambassadors for our nation who can undermine those Irish-Americans who attempt to burn down bridges instead of building them. Our Taoiseach, a gay man and the son of an Indian immigrant, marched in a New York St Patrick’s Day Parade last month that has been historically hostile to LGBTQ rights and in a nation that is now openly hostile to immigrants who aren’t white Christians.

Speaking at Dublin Castle two years ago, former US vice-president Joe Biden referred to Ireland and America as being two countries who were “nostalgic about the future”. That is certainly the case for Eire, but American optimism appears to have vanished.

Our identity is no longer shaped by experiencing oppressive Catholic conservatism and economic nationalism. We are diaspora of an evolving, open nation- a country that finally saw a bright future for itself, as opposed to one being defined only by its past. It’s a lesson that Americans once taught us. We can serve as a reminder.

Emmet Lyons (24) is living in New York City on a J-1 visa, currently interning for the New York Democrats and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

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