In light of the so-called travel ban being effective the day before St. Patrick’s Day, I offer a perspective on the executive order: “Céad míle fáilte,” Irish for “a hundred thousand welcomes.”
Irish immigrants who left home in the 19th century to find work and build a life in America were allowed to enter. These immigrants were not welcomed. They found work in menial jobs, farmed the harsh glacial till of New England, took jobs as servants.
Portrayed in political cartoons as apes, dangerous religious fanatics and a threat to democracy, they were dehumanized to such an extent that much of the nation was inflamed against them.
The Irish persevered. When I was a child bitterly lamenting some perceived hardship, my mother would say, “Oh, aren’t you having a tough time in America?” My mother’s admonishment gave voice to the irony of the reality of life for unwelcome Irish immigrants in light of the hopes and dreams that brought them to this country. It served as a reminder of all that my family had endured in order to provide me with this abundant life as an Irish American.
The suffering, hopes and dreams of the unwelcome resonate with our history as Irish Americans. Our experience shares a common thread with all those who would seek a new life in America.
Irish Americans (and all descendants of immigrants) can open our hearts, we can go beyond mere tolerance; we can can accept current immigrants with the embrace we might wish our forebears had met in their adoptive home.
Their road is our road, may ours rise to meet them.
Noreen M. McGill,
An Irish welcome for Middle Eastern refugees