How We Can Learn From America’s Immigration History

In the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants flooded the United States, fleeing poverty, political disenfranchisement, and social oppression in their homeland.

Irish potato famine memorial in Ireland

What happened to these refugees?

When they arrived, they were mocked for their language (most of them spoke Gaelic rather than English).

They took high-risk, low-skill jobs for whatever pay they could–and were accused of stealing those jobs from American citizens.

Many Americans were terrified that their predominantly Catholic faith would wipe out American culture as they knew it.

no irish no blacks no dogs signBecause of political uprisings against the British back in Ireland, many Americans were afraid that Irish immigrants would spark similar violence on U.S. soil.

Republicans were terrified that the immigrants’ Democratic leanings would dominate and overturn U.S. politics.

What Happened to the Irish?

Yet they still came. They settled.  They integrated. They worshiped and worked and raised families. Over the next few generations, the hatred and distrust of the Irish became a memory. Now, we celebrate their culture across the country every March, downing corned beef and Guinness and claiming dubious Irish heritage just to get a kiss.

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Wappingers Falls New York

Maybe … JUST MAYBE … there is something to learn from that.

What are we to do?

In this time of political and economic unrest and division, it is easy to feel powerless. When rights can be taken away and policies changed with the mere strike of a pen, we may wonder what we can do.

I have a few suggestions:

  1. Be kind and respectful to EVERYONE. EVEN people you disagree with, without falsely agreeing with them.
  2. Read. A LOT. Even opposing perspectives. Educate yourself.
  3. Donate (time or money or voice) to organizations and causes that are important to you.
  4. Spend as much time with your loved ones as you can.
  5. Blog. Speak up. Let your voice be heard.
  6. Maybe learn some self-defense skills … just in case.