What Immigrants of the Irish Great Hunger Can Teach US

In a recent conversation regarding the present migrant crisis in Europe, and the current fear mongering against Muslims, I began to see a similarity between the mass exodus of the Irish due to the Great Hunger in the years after 1845. Is there anything we can learn from a comparison?

Marginalisation of immigrants is a pattern that repeats throughout history. Europe and now America are continuing that pattern. Fear, always the main ingredient of marginalisation, now at an all-time high. “Who are we letting in?” being the question most people ask.

There are some similarities between the current European migrant crisis, our US terrorist situation and the Irish who managed to survive the treacherous trans-Atlantic ocean crossing in the years after 1845.

I’ve written here before about coffin ships and the horrible conditions Irish emigrants endured. Not every ship was a “coffin ship.” There were a few ships, such as the Dunbrody, and the Jeanie Johnston that made the journey with minimal or no loss of life. Most quarantined ships during the Great Hunger years brought emigrants to the Canadian port of Grosse Île in Quebec.

Grosse Ile quarantined the sick, controlled the spread of disease and the flow of immigrants into Canada and the US.

If Irish immigrants did survive the journey on the coffin ship, and many did not, it was the first in a series of hurdles that they would need to clear.

Approved for entry into their new homelands, the migrants did not look healthy compared to the natives. The skeletal immigrants were looked on as sub-human and diseased. They’d saved what they could for the long journey in a time when food and money were scarce. What little money they did have was put aside for passage fares on coffin ships, not food.

It was not long before “No-Irish Need Apply” signs began to appear in shop windows and lodging houses throughout the US.

The Irish, a starving people, did not fit in and were treated poorly because of it. They looked “sick.” Why was there a shortage of food in Ireland during the years 1845-1852? Ireland is a farming country. Lots of good farmland for growing crops and grazing livestock, so why not eat what you grow?

Christine Kinealy in History Ireland magazine says, “Almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London during 1847,…The food was shipped under military guard from the most famine-stricken parts of Ireland;… A wide variety of commodities left Ireland during 1847, including peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey, tongues, animal skins, rags, shoes, soap, glue and seed.”

Though popular opinion at the time would have alleged the Irish to be sick, lazy and half-witted, nothing could have been further from the truth. The Irish worked hard to assimilate into a new culture. Were all immigrants perfectly behaved? Of course not. But the larger population of Irish did work hard, making a respectable life in their new homelands.

Here’s a few  notable Irish-Americans who made a difference. There are a few gangsters in there too, I won’t revise history, but the positive immigrants and their lagacies by far out weigh the negative ones.

The Irish were not the only immigrants to go through a rough transition period. Italian, Chinese, German, Jewish and Mexican immigrants have all endured growing pains in the US. In 1875 the US government began to regulate immigration and only a few years later the US banned immigrants from certain countries. Sometimes ethnic groups such as African-Americans and Japanese,  already citizens and living in the US, were marginalized and discredited as well as being treated like third class citizens.

I am not against increased security checks for immigrants. I myself was interviewed, fingerprinted, TB tested, lung x-rayed and AIDS tested, yes I was. And so was every other Donnelly Visa Lottery winner. Determined to get a visa for the US, I was willing to jump through every hoop presented in order to get my legal visa, eventually a Green Card, and then citizenship.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Picture via New York City Wallpapers)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
(Picture via New York City Wallpapers)

In fact, I have nothing against comfortable and humane quarantine stations either, the cost of which should be burdened by all countries of processed immigrants. If we are taking in the tired, poor and huddled masses, share that burden with us.

There are a lot of ways  to do background checks and prevent undesirable immigrants from entering the US presently. Detaining immigrants until they have been fingerprinted and have background checks and deporting the ones who refuse is a good start.

Gun control is another excellent step in the right direction to protect us from terrorists at home and abroad. Despite what Donald Trump is saying, not every Muslim is a terrorist. Anti-Muslim sentiment is nothing more than Donald Trump’s scare-mongering for votes. Hitler did it and Oliver Cromwell did as well.

History. Sometimes we can learn from it, more often than not we learn nothing more than  we are doomed to repeat it.

The Threat of A Right Wing World

Tolerance is no longer tolerated.

From Bur-qua bans in France to racism disguised under the veil of “political debates,” to right wing extremists killing liberals at a youth camp and teenagers blaming immigrants for causing riots and looting, the world is a political vote away from becoming extreme Right.

In Norway a mad man’s desire to stop the alleged Islamization of Europe results in a killing spree. Anders Behring Breivik of Norway murdered seventy-six people in the name of his war against “Islamization” and “multiculturalism,”on 22 July 2011.

Breivik descibed the killings as being “necessary.”

We watch in shock as rioters take to the streets in major English cities.  Police have arrested more than 1,200 people involved in the riots and looting of early August. A rioter tries to rationalize his behavior to a reporter by saying, “Immigrants are taking our jobs from us.” A summer marred by political stonewalling, violence,  murder and anti-immigrant sentiment.

A black president is stonewalled in a debate to raise the taxes on the rich whites in America, other cabinet members use racial slurs such as “tar baby” to describe the president. Unprecedented racism at a president who is trying to level the playing field for rich and poor alike.

The world is shrinking around us geographically, and I do not refer to global warming. Borders are imaginary lines devised by countries to keep track of who comes and goes. So long as mankind can walk and as air travel becomes more accessible to even the poorest nations, borders become insignificant. Recessions, religious oppression and famines increase the desire to cross borders, legally and illegally.

People will go in search of work; nothing will stop them, unless it comes in the form of a bullet at the Mexican-American border or drowning as they try to swim to the shores of Europe from the north African coast. Desperate people do desperate things. They will risk life and limb to find a better life somewhere else, some of them will die but it is a risk they are willing to make.

I am an immigrant, white and speak with an Irish accent. I came to America in 1992 and worked as a clerk at a dry-cleaners. According to my aunt, “No American girl would do that job, work with those people,” at least not in the all-white town that I worked and lived in. “Those people,” were black, Chinese, Korean, Haitian, Mexican and poor whites. We did the work that was beneath the rich white folks.

The town was the original inspiration for the antisemitism of Gentleman’s Agreement and the white, beautiful, blond wives of The Stepford Wives. The town is infamous for its  WASPish sentiments. (White Anglo Saxon Protestant)

Almost every day the police called the dry cleaners to confirm that Jaques and Ralph, both Haitian, were telling the truth as they stood waiting for their train. “Yes officer they do work here at the cleaners.” Sandy and Mary, both black women, had police cars follow them to work at least once a month, making sure that they were not “loitering” in a white town.

Myself and the other workers in the dry cleaners were subservient to the natives. We worked in an undesirable job and were foreigners. We did the job in sweltering 90 degree heat, sweat and steam building up from all of us working our tails off in sweat shop conditions. The locals didn’t want to do it, but we did. It was a job, it was money and it was more than Ireland could do for me at the time.  I did not feel that I was taking a job away from any local, I was doing a job that no local wanted to do.

Recession in Ireland drove me abroad to find work. I had more in common with the Haitians, Mexicans, Koreans and Chinese than I did with the white folks. I was an immigrant. I was part of a group that are now being blamed for taking the jobs away from locals, if you are to believe the Right Wing politicians. The reason you have it so hard is because of all the immigrants, or so they would have you believe. That is not the case.

The ingredients for right wing control in politics are;  a recession, a group to blame our hard lot in life on (the immigrant group) and low public morale. The morale has to be so low that the public will believe that their “lot in life” is due to the immigrants  taking their jobs. Are they really taking the jobs away from nationals?  Why are employers giving jobs to immigrants instead of nationals?

If we are told to “Buy American” or “Buy English” or “Buy Irish” in order to promote homegrown industry, why are we not employing homegrown nationals? I know currently that Chinese exchange students work for pittance in the service industry so as to enable them to put American work experience on their resumes. Are the Chinese exchange students taking jobs away from locals who can do the jobs too? Who gains from having lower paid employees doing work? The employers.The immigrants are not taking the jobs away the employers are giving the jobs away because of cheaper labor.

Outsourcing is a very fine example of this. If you are calling to inquire about computer sales or service or maintenance and you hear a beautiful Indian accent on the other end of the line, that person is in India, getting paid less than minimum wage in the US to take your call and answer your questions. Who really wins at the end of the day? The person in America who has priced themselves out of a job, the person in India getting underpaid or the employer who reaps the financial benefits?

Shouldn’t there be a law that demands equal pay for an equal day’s work? The only ones who gain from internships and student exchange programs are the employers. If locals over price themselves out of work, then they should rethink their worth during a recession. If locals believe that a job is “beneath” them, readjust your thinking and be happy that you have a job when someone else is unable to find one.

Immigrants will always be a part of living on planet earth. People migrate, it is in our blood. There will always be immigrants, that part is not going to change. New laws and a reassessment of what student exchanges and hiring cheap labor does to a community needs to change. Immigrants need to respect their new homelands and not take advantage of welfare systems. Natives need to readjust their thinking. No job is beneath you; it is a pay check. That paycheck will put food on the table and keep a roof over your head. Immigrants and natives need to be an asset to their country not a burden.

The right wing extremists would have you believe that someone else caused your hardship, in actuality a myriad of reasons caused a global recession, and the right wing extremists are a huge part of the problem. They frighten people into believing that they are going to be over run by someone so culturally different that they won’t recognize their own country any more. They have a lot to lose if you don’t believe the bile and hatred they spew against  people of different race, religions and cultures.

The right wing extremists know that if you don’t fall for their blame game politics, they’ll lose your vote. That’s a lot to lose and that’s all that they are interested in.

If there is an advertisement following this post, I did not place it here and would hope whoever did, has the decency to remove it. I was not asked for my permission to place an add at the end of any blog post.