Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St Patrick's Day!

And on this most Irish of days, let us ask:

What does it mean to be Irish-American? Anything?

Why do Americans invariably describe ourselves as ____ American? (Do they do this in other countries? I would imagine it depends on how much immigration is a feature of life.)

In America, we tend to consider ourselves "children of immigrants"--since the vast majority of us are. Jessica Aloe writes:

One of the topics we discussed outside the pub in Ballintoy [Ireland] was the tendency that Americans seem to have to describe themselves as [insert ethnicity here]-Americans. Growing up in New York, this was perfectly natural to me. I have described myself like that. Everyone described him or herself like that, even when it seemed like they were grasping at straws.

A friend of mine, whose roots are in Minnesota, bought a Norwegian phrasebook when we were younger because her great-great-great grandparents had hailed from there. In middle school, we were given an assignment to write a fake journal pretending we were travelling through Ellis Island as the nationality of our family. Nobody had trouble with it.

These two men thought it was ridiculous. They found it annoying, and even condescending when people came to their homes and described themselves as originating from there. So I asked them how I should describe myself. In my case, I have a European citizenship, I've spent summers there, and have close family there. Regardless of this, they answered, I was simply, "American." There was no other possibility for them.

Should everyone who is born in America describe himself or herself as solely American? Probably not. And you do have to take into account the attitudes towards immigrants in countries like Northern Ireland that, unlike the United States, attract very little immigration. It's a cultural difference, but one that I would have never become aware of had I not taken that risk.
Are you a hyphenated American? If so, would you give up your modifier?

Why is it important to you, to say what kind of American you are?

I find that I honestly can't say why, except that it was drilled into me, to remember: "No Irish Need Apply"..."No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs"(the sign later immortalized as the title of John Lydon's autobiography).

Another possible answer: I find that remembering which people I came from, keeps me from trying to be someone else.

Here on Octogalore's appearance thread (about Michelle Obama's arms!), I mentioned (and linked to) my signature Irish arms. Knowing that my people had bulbous Bill Clintonesque noses and fleshy bodies, comforts me greatly, since I have them too. I am short and stout, and I have never believed I could look like a supermodel. I am grateful for the lesson in common sense that Irish identity gave me. Now: If only I'd listened to the warnings about DRINKING! :P

And I guess this is as good a place as any to announce: I haven't had a drink of alcohol in 27 years. (Am I OLD or what?) So, yall have some green beer on me today, okay?

Have a happy St Patrick's Day!


Give Ireland back to the Irish - Paul McCartney & Wings


Bryce said...

happy st. patricks day, d!

Daisy said...

I hope you have a very happy St. Patrick's Day!

white rabbit said...

'Why do Americans invariably describe ourselves as ____ American? (Do they do this in other countries?'

Nope - can't think of anywhere else that does this. People sometimes refer to themselves as 'Black British' but that's about it.

'What kind of American are you?'

No kind at all... ;)

Renee said...

Here is the think about the repetition of the "no Irish Need Apply", it is often thrown at people of colour to point out that one group of people and or immigrants were successful why aren't we. This is not to say that such obvious prejudice is correct but it alarms me that people do not discuss the fact that the Irish were granted white privilege and this is what allowed their success and eventual assimilation into so-called mainstream culture.

D. said...

In my traveling days, it was pretty obvious that I was an American (probably still is) so in other countries, including Canada, I was just an American, no prefix.

Here, I could drop the prefix, but everyone else insists on picking it up, dusting it off, and handing it back to me. (Also, it beats the alternatives.)

(Also, it took a couple of generations for the Irish to be accorded white privilege, and it may have had something to do with the influx of Eastern and Southern Europeans.)

La Lubu said...

You'll have to pry my hyphen out of my cold, dead hands. I'm a couple generations removed from Ellis Island, but I still get asked where I'm "from" or what my ancestry is. My hyphen means "tough shit---I'm not denying my ancestry or abandoning my culture in pursuit of some version of "American-ness" that I'm never going to fit into, anyway."

Dave Dubya said...

And may a wee bit o' the green flow your way, Lass.

thene said...

If forced, I'd have to drop the 'American' before my prefix - but I'd rather not, I'm neither one thing nor the other any more.

One thing you see in Britain is regional identities - people IDing as having a family history based in a certain county or even just one beach, one valley, one small town.

white rabbit said...

After my slightly flip reply yesterday I had a serious think about the do they do this in other countries? question.

Here's a list - it's not very long but the only examples I could think of: Volga German (Swiss German is different being just Swiss people who speak German), Crimean Tartar (obscure or what?) Patagonian Welsh (ie people of Welsh descent who live in Patagonia rather than vice versa).

Ummm... That's about it.

Thene is right about British regional identities - many will see their primary identity in regional rather than national terms: Welsh, Scottish, Geordie (North East England), Yorkshire, Londoner, Cornish even...

The same pattern can be found in continental Europe. An extreme example is Catalonia and the Basque country when identity will almost invariably be Catalan/Basque and definitely not Spanish. Similar attitudes can be found in Italy - Sicilian, Venetian - and even Germany - Bavarian.

I think this is a good thing. There is nothing inevitable or fixed about the nation state, which is a relatively recent phenomenon in historical terms. I would prefer to be governed - if I must be governed at all, confessing to a strong anarchist streak - on a two level local/Pan-European model. The national tier then becomes pointless.

I suspect that the day is a long way before Americans have a primary identity to their state as oppose to the USA. maybe California will be the first but I'm not holding my breath...

Dennis the Vizsla said...

I'm a mutt -- 25% Irish, 25% French, 50% Italian. But if asked I usually self-identify as Italian.

sheila said...

AWESOME post Daisy! I actually had my husband read this one...and I never ask him to read anyone elses blogs. He even enjoyed this one!

antiprincess said...

congratulations on your nearly three decades of sobriety. that's a whole lot of chips.

that's really admirable. guess it works if you work it... :)