Monday, May 4, 2009

Irish Confederate soldiers were more integrated because the South had been more welcoming (or at least less hostile)

"The Irish green shall again be seen"
from Song of the Rebel Irish, in a deleted scene from Gods and Generals

My daughter and I drove over to Stones River National Battlefield this weekend, and we picked up a copy of Irish Confederates: The Civil War's Forgotten Soldiers by Phillip Thomas Tucker. Tucker says in the introduction that Irish Americans integrated better in the South than in the North because they encountered less negativity here:
Irish Confederates were in general longer-term residents of America than the Irish in the North. These Southerners of Irish descent, consequently, possessed a larger stake in the American dream, in part because they had encountered less anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice and more opportunity in the agricultural South than had the Irish in the large northeastern cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. In overall terms, the Irish of the South more successfully assimilated into mainstream southern life and society, whereas the Irish of the North, especially the recent immigrants, met with greater prejudice and hostility.
This sentiment - that the assimilation of immigrants depends on the host community - parallels nicely with this 2007 post by Aunt B. about what defines us all as Americans (which I found when I was looking for this 2005 story about her U.S. ancestors who spoke German for decades):
I come from rural America. And I have lived in little towns where church records were still kept in German or where grandmas still spoke Italian. I have lived near enough to Chicago to tell you that there are high schools in Chicago that have English, Spanish, Polish, and Greek signs that point you places. There are neighborhoods in Chicago where you might never hear English all day.

And it can be a little weird, to be in a country you know is ostensibly English-speaking and walk into stores and have to wait for a seven year old kid to come and translate your needs for you.

And I’ll even admit that it can be scary.

But it’s not the end of the world. It’s also exciting and vibrant. And, if you’ve ever been to Chicago on, say, St. Patrick’s Day or over the 4th, to see all these different folks come together to celebrate and enjoy each others’ company, it’s awe-inspiring.

It makes me proud to be an American, that we can be so different and yet all fit under the term “American.” Not because we’ve all assimilated; not because we all speak English; but because we’re all here.

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