Saturday, December 26, 2015

Becoming Irish

Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I never realized quite how segregated it was. I'm not talking about the horrendous racism we still face today. I'm talking about a city that had Catholic and Protestant country clubs. The city was run by the Irish, with the Italians right against their rear bumper. While I was descended from two different Mayflower pilgrims, it was the songs of the Irish that I loved.

While I hung around with my many Irish friends and learned the words to as many Irish songs as I could handle, I always felt like a visitor. I was the token non Irish friend at the table.

My mother refused to let me see my father's side of the family. In what was amazingly selfish, I missed out on the chance for substitute fathers and aunts who talked about me and my brothers every day.

It wasn't until last year that I found out my great-grandmother, Mary, had emigrated from Ireland to America. I never had to feel like an outsider, if my mother had only allowed me access to a whole group of people who really loved me.

By the way, I've used the word Irish to describe the dominant political force in my town. But to explain it fully I have to tell you that they were the great great-grandchildren of the Irish who'd come to build the Erie Canal. I didn't know anyone actually born in Ireland. And because Ireland had a major temperance movement at the end of the 19th century, I know that the heavy drinkers I grew up with weren't from the Auld Sod.

"Was your mother born in Ireland? Is there part of you that's Irish?"