Irish Culture in America
The history of Ireland is diverse and fact is mixed with fiction. Through the years in which Ireland had a famine, many people migrated over to the United States in order to have a better life and gain some prosperity. When they arrived they were met with less than open arms, but rather a whole new world of discrimination. I will be discussing the summary I have done on the discrimination of Irish in America today, followed by my reactions, two other Irish blooded reactions, the history, identities, and transitions, of these people of which I learned through doing this research.
II. Research Summary
The readings on Irish immigrants in America led me to understand the racism and culture that is new to them from where they used to live and also showed me their personal views of their treatment by the American society. The article in West Magazine is very good, covering many factors relating to the perception of Irish immigrants and their descendents living in the Santa Clara Valley. The article discussed the racism Irish Americans endured, the religion, and the culture that is celebrated. The article is very relevant to the values and communication of Irish Americans and other cultures.
The Irish throughout time have been stereotyped as a very low-culture people. Many people have characterized the Irish as fighters and drinkers, (Krim & Early, 1995, p.31) which is not true, because many Irish who are normal working, non-drinking or non-fighting individuals. However, when the holiday called St. Patricks Day comes around, it is celebrated with drinking and eventually fighting. The reality is that no matter what bar you go into, you can find a drunk fighting about something, and the drunks are people of all nationalities and cultures. Me and my father have been sober for more than 5 years, (Krim & Early, 1995, p.31). Not all the Irish drink and the stereotype is false in many cases pertaining to Irish Americans.
Another value of the Irish is uncertainty avoidance, which concerns the degree to which people who feel threatened by ambiguous situations respond by avoiding them (Martin & Nakayama, 2000, 70). This leads the Irish to prefer to reduce rules, accept dissent, and take risks (Martin & Nakayama, 2000, 70). This can be supported by the massive immigration to the United States during the Potato Famine. Many Irish took to the seas during this period, and it was a great risk for so many to cross a sea and enter a world new to them, breaking away from the British power that controlled their lives. This emigration also demonstrates a sense of free will, which encompasses the need for change and to continue trying even if you fail. I noticed that the Irish are perceived as a group that works hard for what it wants and doesnt seem to give in to the norms of society.
The new vision of Irish immigrants seems to be much healthier than that of previous generalizations. The action and doing value, which is entangled in the values, seems to be present in the lives of Irish immigrants, The young Irish coming over here today are much more sophisticated, more educated, and more ambitious (Krim & Early, 1995, p.33).
There is a definite sense of the contact hypothesis in the Santa Clara Valley, where cultures seem to communicate better than if they were separated by culture. The big melting pot of this city (San Jose) brings cultures together, where in other areas of the country, are still segregated based on race (Morgan, 2001). This is relevant because it means that the chances of group members being of equal status are higher. Therefore, communication can exist between cultures without the dominance issue, being the lower class in job or race. The Santa Clara Valley race issue is not a factor or a prerequisite to be dominant. The Irish can integrate into any conversation and almost any culture without being seen as a threat to the other culture. They even relate to being a minority in some cases, We hide feelings, Irish have a distrust for authority, Some think we are stupid or uncultured, Ive even been called a paddy or mink(Krim & Early, 1995, p.33) basically a norm for most minorities in societies carrying a dominant culture or race. Whenever a group has a separate identity compared with the rest of the surrounding groups or cultures, the chances of discrimination or racism increase tremendously.
III. Reactions & Analysis
My own reactions to the readings were mixed. The books, which I read, had contrasting views based on people and culture. It seems to me that many people are very judgmental and take things to heart, where others seem to be more comfortable with their identity and proud rather than easily affected by discriminatory words. The West article told about both sides of Irish Americans living in this county. The bad experiences were blatant and quoted with as much emphasis as possible for greatest impact to the reader. The good side was directly contrasted. The author could have included a gray area to show the common ground for Irish Americans in the Silicon Valley, but chose to make the issues more controversial.
The generalization that Irish drink and fight may or may not relate to me. Since I turned 20, I have been drinking heavily at least every other day. So I have no premise to say that Irish dont drink, except that I think this is just a phase in my life right now. My father, who is also Irish, drinks a lot, and has been doing so for quite a while. So, based on my experience I have no evidence that Irish do not like to drink.
As for the fighting, I have not been in a fight for 3 years, so I am not completely able to fend off that stereotype based on my own experience. As for my father, well, lets just say he doesnt back down from confrontations very easily. Therefore, I must agree with these generalizations.
The one which I must disagree with is that the Irish are discriminated against. I see discrimination everyday, and rarely do I see an Irish as the one being harassed or taken down because of the way they talk, where they are from, or because of their history.
The values continua:
Control ————————— Free Will
The Irish are much more on the side of Free Will rather than control, because they are open to change and freed themselves from the clutches of famine to better their situation.
Single Focused ——————————– Multi-Focused
Slow Paced —————————– Fast Paced
The Irish seem to be very single focused based on the books I read, although I feel that based on the environment in these days and place, they tend to be multi-focused and fast paced, especially in the Silicon Valley.
Doing ————–Being—————- Becoming
Past —————-Present———— Future
I feel that the Irish get things done, but the being value is very highly stressed in the books. The past is also very valued in Ireland, and traditions are respected. I would agree that history is very important with the readings I have done and my experiences.
Low Context ——————– High Context
Informal ———————– Formal
Emotional Expression —————————– Emotional Restraint
The readings emphasize that the Irish are informal and indirect. They dont always say everything that they want to say, and can be informal in manners at times because of family orientation. They were also tainted as being emotionally restrained mostly in part to British rule and the inferiority of Irish in their homeland.
Public ———————— Private
The reading drifts toward privacy, and the security within family. I tend to agree with the readings here as well.
Hierarchy ——————- Equality
There tend to be equality as much as possible, besides the history of Ireland, the Irish have always wanted equality and to escape British rule.
Individualistic ———————- Collectivist
High Profile ————————- Low Profile
The readings demonstrate high individualism in groups, as an organization or club, which can be different than a big congregation in order to promote change. The profile of the Irish was different in many articles, and therefore I would base the mark on middle profile. It varies depending on whom you talk to.
Highly Competitive —————————– Cooperative
Task ———————– Relationship
Achievement ————————– Character
Through the readings, I found that many Irish are cooperative, stemming from their upbringing within families where people helped each other with what they needed done. I also found that relationship was important for the same reasons, family. Character and aggressiveness were the traits most impeding in the reading.
Flexibility ————————- Order/Structure
There is much order, because things need to be done, and if there is no order, and structure, there tends to be chaos and instability.
Linear ———————— Holistic
The tendency of Irish is to be very holistic, and look for more than one way to figure out a problem. This was true though the readings and in my own experience.
The generalizations were somewhat true. That is how they become generalizations in the first place. The interviewees both agreed that they were somewhat true. If you go back to Ireland you will find the bars full at dusk, and fights are commonplace at these pubs. The point being made about being a minority in places was not really true for them, unless you go to a black dominated are or Asian dominated area, where any white person would feel like a minority.
Constance Wallace Morgan Newberg, 1st generation Irish American, Female 70s
a) What made your parents decide to immigrate to the U.S.? Do many Irish come here for the same reasons? Parents were looking for a new opportunity and wealth.
b) If you have children: What Irish values, behaviors, and customs do you want your children to learn and remember? The Irish Jig and Catholicism.
c) Can you give some examples of some things some Americans do that you find frustrating or annoying or disrespectful? No not really, it would be racist to say anything annoying.
d) Are there American behaviors you dont want your children to adopt? Rap music, tattoos, and guns.
e) What Irish values or behaviors will you never give up, even though some Americans dont seem to understand or value them? Corn beef and cabbage as my Sunday meal. I am not sure if it is a tradition, rather something I have grown up doing and will continue for the rest of my life.
f) Do you find that you use different styles to talk to different people? For example, when you talk to other Irish, or Irish Americans, are there some things you do or say that you would not do or say when talking to other Americans? I would not make any derogatory language to the group I talk about with my family. I also speak slower to those with heavy accents, it seems to be more effective in communicating.
g) What is most important to you about being an Irish-American? St. Patricks Day, the only celebration of an Irish person we have in America is held dear to me. I
h) What are the 2 or 3 most important events in the Irish immigrant experience here in the U.S.? Religion, the importance of Protestant Catholicism in the U.S. and the acceptance of Irish in the American community.
Patrick OToole, Irish American, late 40s
a) What made your descendants decide to immigrate to the U.S.? Do many Irish come here for the same reasons? They came during the Potato Famine in the 1850s, along with thousands of other immigrants.
b) If you have children: What Irish values, behaviors, and customs do you want your children to learn and remember? I have been in America for my whole life, and my parents were born here as well, the only tradition I can think of is celebrating St. Patricks Day with family.
c) Can you give some examples of some things some Americans do that you find frustrating or annoying or disrespectful? I think that Americans are in too much of a rush, you rarely see anybody go to a bar after work and relax, the work days seem to last until midnight.
d) Are there American behaviors you dont want your children to adopt? The fast paced lifestyle and no time for family, which I continue to see in society, also I want my children to marry one person they love and not go through marriage after marriage.
e) What Irish values or behaviors will you never give up, even though some Americans dont seem to understand or value them? I will never give up going to church on Sunday, although it is not just from my culture, I feel a good moral background and appreciation for God is important.
f) Do you find that you use different styles to talk to different people? For example, when you talk to other Irish, or Irish Americans, are there some things you do or say that you would not do or say when talking to other Americans? I use shorter words for many Asians I talk to, because I am not sure how much they understand.
g) What is most important to you about being an Irish-American? I am just proud of being successful, because that was the whole idea of my ancestors who traveled over the ocean, and I have healthy children, and a beautiful wife.
h) What are the 2 or 3 most important events in the Irish immigrant experience here in the U.S.? The acceptance of Americans at Ellis Island when the immigrants came here to seek refuge from the famine. I cant think of anything else.
I found that when asking about how they speak to people of other nationalities they both had a nervous twitch or motion, because it seemed as though the question made them a little uncomfortable. It was hard for both of them to answer the last question about the immigrant experience, due to the nature of their own arrival to the country.
V. Histories, Identities, & Transitions
Some of the Irish history in America was shaped during the Mexican-American War, when the Irish defected and went to the aide of Mexico, which brought out the power of authority for the Irish living in the United States, giving them a step down in American society. The U.S. anti-immigrant press of the time caricatured the Irish with simian features, portraying them as unintelligent and drunk and charging that they were seditously loyal to the Pope (Martin & Nakayama, 2000, 95).
Another part of their history was Irelands Great Hunger in 1845 through 1850, where 2 million people died of starvation. The part of this history which is the most important and why Ireland has so much resentment for Britain, is because the British landowners exported 25 million bushels of corn and more than 250,000 sheep to England (Krim & Early, 1995, p.31) over the same period when all these Irish died. The history based on these, has shaped how the Irish react, live, and work in Ireland even today. However, resentment is not as harsh among Irish immigrants in America. Many have moved on with their lives and jobs, looking to the future.
The identity of Irish was not destroyed because of people leaving the homeland, instead of staying and attempting to win back what was lost. The Irish tend not to look down on Irish Americans or Irish Canadians (Krim & Early, 1995, p.98) for this reason. The identity which Irish-immigrants brought was a truly American one. The culture of free speech, press and religion fit perfectly for a group that had escaped from British rule, as it was for Americans here before the American Revolution. In order to describe the Irish identity, we can look at pre-Revolutionary Americans. The Irish found the ability to own land and prosper, although some were poor and suffered a hard life; the idea of manifest destiny was present for all Irish immigrants coming to America.
The transition of Irish to American culture was somewhat hard. The difference from being under British rule to living in American society where freedom and democracy is praised could be overwhelming, even making some confused at times. The beginning of the big migration to the U.S. put many Irish immigrants to work in mills and plants at low wages and bad conditions. As time progressed equality was a more common way for Irish immigrants. Many moved out west and developed a new way of life. Transition at this age, in the year 2001, is much easier because the young immigrants coming over know that the ways of freedom and the fast paced lifestyle are being picked up worldwide.
VI. Conclusion — Key Learnings
The key learnings from this paper which I personally experienced were not too dramatic. I learned that many immigrants who came over in the 1800s were at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. I also learned that a big majority of Irish Immigrants live right here in the Santa Clara Valley. The other interesting fact from the readings were that some Irish felt as though they were not distinguished enough, and put into the big melting pot of Caucasian. I thought that it was very common for white people to be put into the pot, and found no offense to this myself. It was also new to me that Irish are still immigrating, as business people, to find new jobs and become wealthy in America.