They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. You should be so lucky.
Being of Irish descent myself, I suppose pretending you’re Irish one day a year is better than nothing at all. But it’s not the same as the real thing, now is it?
Ha, there’s nothing like a little ethnic smack talk to get the party going. It’s all good fun until some Irishman gets drunk and starts a fight.
I know there are people around who actually believe their ethnic group is better than others and that some groups are inferior. But there’s no reason to waste time worrying about bigots and racists. They’re hopeless.
The rest of us who live in the real world understand that variety is the spice of life. We see and appreciate how every culture, every region, every continent and every ethnic group has contributed to life on Earth.
As Americans we’re attuned to the concept of “the melting pot,” knowing that the history of this country is interwoven with every race and creed imaginable. It began with the native population and the original European settlers and eventually would include people from every corner of the planet — some brought against their will, some coming to escape persecution in their home lands, many arriving simply to build a better life.
One set of my grandparents came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1920s, arriving separately and then meeting here. The other set came to the U.S. from Scotland in the 1950s, having survived World War II but seeking the American Dream with other relatives who’d already come over.
I’ve always enjoyed finding out about my family’s background, mostly because it had so much to do with who I am: my hair, eye and skin color; my physical build; my health predilections; even (if you believe some researchers) my psychological makeup. And yet those are only the building blocks for who you become.
I’ve never believed that if you were Irish you’d be a certain kind of person, if you were Italian you’d turn out a certain way, if you were African-American you’d turn out a certain way, etc. You might start out looking a particular way and leaning a particular direction, but where you end up is very much in your own hands.
Knowing my grandparents as I grew up, hearing their take on the opportunities available in America, I learned early on that you could become anything you wanted to if you worked hard enough. And every now and then, not very often, I heard about the old country and the people they’d left behind.
My grandparents wanted to be Americans. As an American kid growing up like everyone else, I wanted to hang on to anything that made me feel different and unique. That was my ethnic background.
Lots of friends don’t know or care about their geneology. They are who they are, and that’s enough for them.
I, on the other hand, soaked up whatever I could about my family tree. I’ve visited Ireland and Scotland a few times each, meeting distant relatives, making contacts. I saw the houses (now abandoned) in the Irish countryside that my grandfather and grandmother grew up in.
I’ve tried to celebrate my heritage whenever possible, including St. Patrick’s Day with the wannabees.
So I’ll see you Saturday downtown at the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ annual parade. I’ll be the one drinking the green beer.
CONTACT JOHN FOX: firstname.lastname@example.org
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