On St. Patrick's Day, remember how anti-immigrant history repeats itselfBreaking News
tags: Ireland, immigration, holidays, Irish history, St. Patricks Day, Irish Americans
In 1856, two boys named Thomas Hogan and Patrick Hoynes arrived in New York from Ireland at a time when their countrymen, looking for work, were being told they need not apply. In the years following the Great Hunger, Ireland’s peasantry hemorrhaged from their homeland, only to be met with disdain, bigotry, and an unhealthy dose of nativism upon their arrival to these shores. By the end of the 19th century, when the Irish-born population had peaked at nearly 1.9 million and an additional 4 million first-generation Americans had been born to them, the Irish in America made up 13 percent of the total population.
Today, more than 33 million Americans claim Irish heritage, myself among them. Given the paucity of family records, it’s unclear whether Thomas Hogan and Patrick Hoynes ever met one another, but their granddaughter was my grandmother, Veronica Hogan, who in turn married into yet another immigrant family, the Guadagninos.
These days, I find myself wondering what would have happened if Thomas Hogan and Patrick Hoynes had been separated from their parents and put in cages with hundreds of other starving children, fleeing the aftermath of Ireland’s decimating Great Hunger. What would have become of them if they were detained at the border, their desire to seek entry to the country labeled criminality because they were part of the population of “undesirables?”
Though the numbers of Irish entering the United States have declined dramatically, they still make up roughly 50,000 members of the undocumented immigrant community — a statistic often lost amidst the hand wringing over the southern border. In a nation where only 2 percent of the citizens can claim to be a part of the indigenous population, policies that villainize or criminalize immigrants are antithetical to our national identity. We have not learned from the 19th century nativist hysteria over the Irish. We are not embracing the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.
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