BY JEANETTE LENOIR
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City went like the others before it, except it came with a powerful message about immigration and the art of humanity directed at the new administration of President Donald J. Trump.
After presenting Trump with a bowl of Shamrocks, Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny delivered a powerful speech that was a clear and unwavering stance at odds with the Shamrock receiver. Noting the start of a new era between Ireland and the United States following Trump’s election, Edna reminded the president of the long standing, strong bond and mutual respect between the two countries. He then pivots to deliver the central theme of his message on this St. Patrick’s Day saying, “It’s fitting that we gather here each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s and his legacy. He too, of course, was an immigrant. And though he’s of course the patron saint of Ireland, for many people around the globe, he’s also a symbol of, indeed the patron of immigrants.” This statement was a clear message to the new administration that has brought about a type of divisiveness this nation hasn’t seen in modern times. The Muslim ban, the wall separating the US and Mexico, anti-immigration, and anti-refugee sentiments taking shape are just a few examples of Trump’s vision for a new American era.
Pointing to the large number of Americans that claim Irish heritage, Kenny goes on to say, “Ireland came to America because deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed… and four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the wretched refuse on the teaming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and we became Americans.”
Another poignant clap-back against the new administration came from the Irish Arts Center in NYC. The organization distributed free books by Mexican authors from 14 locations across all five boroughs on St. Patrick’s Day. Culture is truly a significant part of our collective humanity and the Irish took a stand on their special day to celebrate this notion. Perhaps it’s this welcoming and accepting characteristic that allows folks from all walks of life to become Irish for a day.
The powerful speech by Kenny was cloaked in culture and significance of a people who like today’s Muslim communities across America and Europe, were at one time labeled terrorists. This distressing reminder was delivered in an equally powerful rebuke of Trump’s anti-immigrant policy in an op-ed in New York Daily News by Irish Senate member, Senator Aodhán ó Riordáin who said, “The negative stereotypes now attached to other identities were once attached to us. We were the terrorists at one time as Irishmen and Irish Women embarked on murderous bombing campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, forcing every Irish immigrant in the UK to lower their voices in shame.” Although his words may not appease many who can’t overlook the recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in the U.S., France, Germany and even parts of Africa—just to name a few places indiscriminate bombs are going off, and killings are taking place—the desire to negatively stereotype and target an entire demographic of people solely based on their religion and or their place in the world is not only unwise, it is inhumane and wrong. And, history has shown us this time and time again.
Riordáin pointed to Trump’s own immigrant mother and wife as an example of the hypocrisy and heartless treatment of a people seeking refuge from war torn countries that has forced a large number of them to become displaced; many dying on their journey to maintain basic life. Their bodies, small and large, young and old, scattered across sea shores for all to see. And yet the unwavering rhetoric from anti-immigration and anti-refugee politicians in the U.S. and Europe, including the Middle East, shaped to dismiss the glaring and unforgiving truth of the matter, continues to deny them the basic human dignity all people deserve.
He goes on to say, “The Bannon worldview will undoubtedly attempt to use the St. Patrick’s Day events in the White House to promote the American success story of a white European Christian people. But they have forgotten themselves and their own history. They have forgotten the plight their own families went through as immigrants.” One can easily add to this sentiment that the current administration has also forgotten America’s unsavory past by essentially turning a blind uncaring eye to the many social woes that still permeate a rotting stench across our beautiful country—like police brutality that overwhelmingly impacts minorities, a judicial system that favors the powerful and wealthy, persistent attacks on long established basic human, civil, voting, workers and women’s rights by a new generation of alt-right republicans dead set on turning back the hands of time to an era most Americans wouldn’t want to relive, let alone revive. Riordáin is absolutely spot-on when he said, “When you make African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans feel lesser, it comes from a pit of racism.” The Make America Great Again theme of the Trump administration is a false battle cry that on this St. Patrick’s Day the Irish people weren’t afraid to challenge.