There was a time when American History teachers had to just "hold tight" until their course chronology met up with available Facing History resources on the Eugenics movement (late 1800s/early 1900s), and 20th century issues around immigration, education, and "race."
What and where do you think about when you hear the term "race relations" in the United States?
- the South?
- the Civil Rights Movement?
- the Civil War?
- Los Angeles?
I love the LA Film Festival. Neither my husband or I have ever worked in the film industry. In the course of a normal year, we are lucky to see even 3 or 4 movies in the theater. In fact, we started going to the LA Film Festival just to support the festival's move to downtown since we live here. The first year we got a modest little "4-pack" of films - toughly negotiated between his love of action films and my quirky taste for some foreign films. They were fantastic.
Although I'm not much of a comic book fan, I must admit the title of a current Japanese American National Museum exhibit piqued my interest- Marvels and Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics 1942-1986. I'm always inspired to deepen my understanding of stereotypes and explore their historic roots, so the description on the website had me intrigued.
For the past 15 years, I have taught Facing History at Crossroads School in Santa Monica. In my class, students use primary source readings, memoirs, and texts that explore pivotal moments in world history – moments of mass violence and genocide, moments of crimes against humanity, and moments when civil rights have been disregarded. I teach Facing History because I believe that through the study of historical instances of racism, of intolerance, of antisemitism, and of hatred, my students can increase their ability to be compassionate, tolerant, loving, and productive members of their own communities today. In studying how past violence and prejudices came to be, I see my students better able to understand and question the roots of the violence and prejudice they see and read about in the news. So when the story broke recently about celebrity chef Paula Deen’s use of the “n word,” I immediately turned to what I’ve learned by teaching a Facing History class to better understand the events.
This year, I discover that my essay is among the resources in the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum at Boston Latin School. My article is a resource in the section, "Race, class ethnicity and stereotyping." Getting young people to question our assumed American stereotypes? Now, that's Irish pride.
We in Los Angeles heartily agree! And, with Aine's permission, offer her full essay for you to consider this St. Patrick's Day.
I Hate St. Patrick's Day
On March 17, 1987, I experienced my first American St. Patrick's Day, my first offshore glimpse of my own country, broadcast in psychedelic green. I was a waitress in an Irish-American pub in upstate New York. The night before, I telephoned my parents back home to explain that the pub would be too loud and crowded to call on the day itself.
"Why?" My mother asked. "What's all the fuss about?"
The "fuss" began the next morning with an 11 a.m. queue outside the pub door. It ended at 5 a.m. the following day as the last taxi drivers waited for the final revelers to make their way through snow banks dribbled with human vomit. The intervening hours had been a mosh pit of sweating bodies swaying to the band. All this for St. Patrick, a holy man from Wales who banished snakes and Celtic paganism.
The entire episode was a million miles from my childhood experience on St. Patrick's. Back then, we walked to church in our best-winter coats, sporting our sprigs of freshly pulled shamrocks from the fields. And that homegrown, 1960's version is another million miles from Ireland's current Disney-fied extravaganza which borrows backward from its American counterpart.
The next day, March 18, I soaked my blistered waitress's feet and tallied the day's tips. Over one very long day of pushing through the crowds with plastic cups of beer, I had doubled my weekly salary as a primary school teacher back home. Only three months in my newly adopted country, and I'd already learned that the wearin' o' the green had a real payoff.
And a price.
For the next 24 years, I would learn just what that price was (and is) each time some stranger or acquaintance mimics my accent -- the "faith 'n begorrah," Barry Fitzgerald version. Or each time someone calls me Colleen, because "that's what all you Irish girls are named." Or each time some idiot tells me the "seven-course Irish dinner" (a six pack and a potato) joke. Or each time I decline that last drink for the road to a chorus of, "Aw, Jesus, you're Irish. You must drink."
Would these jokesters mimic any other non-native -- say, Latina or Chinese or French Canadian -- back to its speaker? Except for a wincing glance, I've only spoken up once -- a silence I never maintain when faced with slurs that demean other groups.
It makes me wonder if, over the course of 24 years, I've internalized the message that the Irish in America are supposed to be great old fun. That we're exempt from the standard politesse that tries to purge insult from our sidewalks, our workplaces and our public discourse. From Hollywood to the Hamptons, from the St. Patrick morning roasts to the "devil-knows-your-dead" toasts, we Irish have fed this sense of ourselves as the group in America who can take the joke -- however demeaning and stereotypical that joke is.
Historically, a series of Punch cartoons ("The Bogtrotters," "The Irish Ogre") in the mid-to-late 1800s portrayed the newly arrived Irish in America as drunk, illiterate and racially inferior. The cartoonists gave us a flat nose, pronounced mouth and lips, low forehead, and an air of brutishness. According to one historian, "Americans in the mid-1800s were just beginning to consider the theory of evolution ... in the Irishmen, they detected animalistic qualities."
In the 1800s, the Irish were not alone. The African Americans, along with the newly arrived Chinese and Germans, all had their ethnic or national traits misrepresented, exaggerated and mocked.
But today, when our 21st century gift shops and drug stores sport their racks of "Happy St. Patty's" greeting cards every year, I'm not convinced that the 1800s Punch cartoons are a thing of the past. As I look at those cards with their palsied-faced "St. Patty's" drunks and the overflowing beer mugs, I know that I've never seen a Kwanzaa, a Hanukkah or a Chinese New Year card that depicts its annual celebration (and its celebrants) through such buffoonish cartoons.
Until that changes, there's little of today's St. Patrick's I consider part of my heritage.
Aine Greaney is an Irish writer (County Mayo) now living on Boston’s North Shore. Click here to see her blog and get information on her other essays, short stories, and books.
Last year as February drew to a close, a colleague approached me and asked, "So what did you do for Black History Month?" With little time between passing periods for a detailed response, I replied, "We should meet up and discuss this later if you're really interested." Eventually we did sit down and I shared essentially this:
Urban schools are often villified for unacceptable results while simultaneously being freighted with responsibility to ameliorate all the ills and ails of societal neglect in just north of 6 hours a day and 180 days a year. However, the problems and issues confronting urban schools are typically manifestations of larger societal problems related to social inequality, racism, and the deterioration of resource-deprived urban areas across the world.