Friday, March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick's Day and Immigration

I have kind of toyed with whether to write my own post, or simply link Libby Anne of Love, Joy Feminism’s post. I decided to add a bit while acknowledging her outstanding work in locating and collecting the racist materials of the past.

In 21st Century America, we have no problem celebrating Irish heritage - even those of us with no known Irish blood. My brother proudly plays fiddle in an Irish band. I wore green to the office today. Shamrocks, Celtic and pseudo-celtic imagery, and Irish flags will be everywhere. The Chicago River will be dyed green as usual.

Now imagine for a moment if we took out “Irish” and substituted “Mexican.” Hmm, not quite the same sense of pride? Nope, more like, “fly the AMERICAN flag!” and “go home!” and “Build That Wall.”
Or imagine it with Middle Eastern Muslims instead.

But the Irish are - in 21st Century America - viewed as safe, and as "real" Americans.

But it was not always thus.

Rather, every single slander and stereotype about Latino and Muslim immigrants today was in fact used about the Irish during the 1800s when they were the disfavored immigrant group.

The Irish were seen as dirty and subhuman.

The Irish were seen as failing to assimilate.

The Irish were seen as an invasion by a foreign religion intent on imposing their laws on us.

The Irish were portrayed as longing to kill the “real” Americans.

The Irish were seen as paupers leaching off of the “real” Americans.

The Irish were seen as diluting the “true” American culture.

The Irish were seen as taking jobs away from the “real” Americans.

The Irish were stereotyped as drunk and lazy.

The Irish were stereotyped as sexually dangerous to American women.

The Irish were seen as fraudulent voters.

The Irish were portrayed as bringing harmful, intoxicating substances to the US.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The bottom line is that racism and xenophobia are the same in any era - only the victims change. (I could also cite the anti-Chinese hatred in the 1800s and 1900s, the anti-Japanese sentiment in the 1930s and 1940s, and the anti-Italian propaganda of the early 1900s. Or the anti-German sentiment from the 1840s and later the 1940s. And let’s not forget the Jews either, who have been a disfavored group through most of our history. Many perished in the Holocaust because we turned them away.)

There was actually a political movement (labeled the “Know Nothings”) devoted, like the Tea Party and the Alt-Right today, to the exclusion of immigrants. Their positions sure look similar, and contain similar reasoning.

It is also interesting to note that foreign-born immigrants made up a much higher percentage of the population back then than it does now.

There is nothing unique about the Latino immigrants of today, or the hateful response to them. And ditto for Muslim immigrants (the 3.3 million Muslims in the US are overwhelmingly ordinary people looking for a better life, just like me and you.) They just happen to be the favorite targets of racial hatred and xenophobia at our moment in history.

So when you bristle when I point out that this is racism or complain about my tone, remember that it is Mexicans and Muslims today, but it was likely your ancestors and mine that were the targets of hate and exclusion in the past. Racism and xenophobia were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Complements of Love, Joy, Feminism, here are some of the racist cartoons about the Irish back in the day. I have also added a few of my own:

Well look at that: building bombs, cheating at the polls, gunning for the "real" Americans, and lazily sponging off everyone else.

Foreign invasion by the unclean. 

Servants rising against their masters. Also, dehumanization by portrayal as apish.

Another one showing Irish  as a stupid apes.

Say goodbye to religious freedom: Catholic/Irish Sharia is coming...and also voting fraud.

The lovely English nurse contrasted with the Irish ape. 

 Sacrificing the Democratic Party to the Catholic Church. Again, note the portrayal as an ape.

Showing the similarities of the African-American to the Irish: both are subhuman apes.

How the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day: by rioting. Also note "open season on the police." Compare to modern claims that Muslims celebrated 9-11 (not true) or that Cinco de Mayo means drunkenness and rioting by Mexican-Americans. And the accusation that Black Lives Matter means attacks on law enforcement.

 Bringing intoxicating substances into the US. An ape, of course. 

Taking the jobs from the "real" Americans. 

Immigrants as paupers sponging off of the "deserving." 

Irish apes as the ones who refuse to assimilate.


A few links:

First, these on America’s troubled history on immigration, with the altruistic instinct in constant battle with xenophobia:

And this one on the rejection of Jews fleeing the coming Holocaust. Very interesting to see the horrific things said about Jewish children.

And, it can’t hurt to click through to Libby Anne’s post and give her some traffic:


  1. Chicago River was dyed green last Saturday morning..prior to the annual parade. (I have pictures of the boat spraying dye)Today Catholics can eat meat and give it up another day during Lent to make it up.
    There's always been a scapegoat in America. We thrive on being nasty to at least one group. Sad.

  2. I've been thinking about this issue off and on for awhile now with all the nonsense going on in this country. It's actually kind of sad and weird to think about all the things that we wouldn't have if all these people had "fully assimilated" and left their cultures behind. Spaghetti, Chinese take-out, pizza, bagels, Havarti, mozzarella, sauerkraut, tacos, burritos, humus, pita bread, baklava, egg roles, etc. Just thinking of foods the list could go on and on.

    Remember also the signs, "No Irish need apply." As a person with Irish roots, I think the reason they portrayed the Irish looking like apes is because the Irish tended to be better looking than average. :-) I suppose that could be a genetic preference, but I look more like my German ancestors, so who's to say?

    You forgot to mention the Polish who were also despised. My dad had a friend whose family had changed their name significantly after immigrating to the U.S. because they couldn't get decent jobs with their Polish name.

    My mom remembers as a kid driving through a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia area (I think). A pastor took her family there to show it to them. There were no kids playing in the streets. The curtains were all drawn. There was little activity anywhere. The pastor told them that the Jews were still too afraid to live normal lives. Their experiences in Europe had left them terrified. I'm sure the attitudes of some Americans only made that fear worse. It left a real impression on my mom.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oh, and speaking of Irish Catholics taking over the country for Mother Church, there were people who were still freaked out by that when JFK was elected as President.

    3. I can't believe how I spelled egg rolls. LOL :-) Someday they'll let us edit our comments I suppose.