By PETER BEHRENS
It’s embarrassing to listen to prosperous 21st-century Americans with Irish surnames lavish on Mexican or Central American immigrants the same slurs — “dark,” “dirty,” “violent,” “ignorant” — once slapped on our own, possibly shoeless, forebears. The Irish were seen as unclean, immoral and dangerously in thrall to a bizarre religion. They were said to be peculiarly prone to violence. As caricatured by illustrators like Thomas Nast in magazines like Harper’s Weekly, “Paddy Irishman,” low of brow and massive of jaw, was more ape than human, fists trailing on the ground when they weren’t cocked and ready for brawling.
Soon it was another people’s turn. During the 1890s, when hundreds of thousands of French-Canadians were quitting rocky farms in Quebec for jobs in New England textile towns, The New York Times wrote, “It is next to impossible to penetrate this mass of protected and secluded humanity with modern ideas or to induce them to interest themselves in democratic institutions and methods of government.”
It was bad enough to be invaded by unmoderns. But the real danger was in the numbers, because, as The Times went on, “No other people, except the Indians, are so persistent in repeating themselves. Where they halt they stay, and where they stay they multiply and cover the earth.”
I live in Maine, where these days Hispanics and Somalis, not French-Canadians, are the most visible immigrant groups. I wonder if our governor, Paul LePage, born in Lewiston, oldest of 18 children in a family of French-Canadian descent, ever came across that thoughtless article while formulating a raft of anti-immigrant policies.
After all, the governor’s grandparents were immigrants, members of a generation commonly treated as a despised minority in New England. From the Civil War through the 1950s, many if not most newly arrived French-Canadians looking for work in Maine’s mill towns or north woods were illegal immigrants.
Well said. Click the link to see the rest of the opinion piece.
Popular Manchester, NH Mayor Ted Gatsas is seeking permission from the State House to place a moratorium on any further refugee resettlement in NH's largest city. This is not unlike what had taken place previously in cities in Southern Maine. The claim is that the refugees are becoming a too large a burden on the social services provided by the city -- to date it seems to be only that -- a claim without evidence.
Given the racially charged vandalism which happened in Concord not long ago -- we should all take care not to further the impression that immigrants and people of color are not welcome in New Hampshire. I may differ with Mr. Behrens slightly when he says St. Patrick's Day is not about Irishness -- but I definitely agree that it is about immigrants. There really is nothing more fundamental to Irish-Americaness than the history of Irish immigration to this country. That "immigrantness" has been a difficult issue for every group that has come to our shores or passed our borders -- yet America has been enriched and strengthened by every new group that has made this their home. St. Patrick's Day is an excellent time to remember that.