Here’s a nice little essay from the New York Daily News (not a source you see quoted often on these pages) describing the Bronx-Irish immigrant experience. I realize that European immigration and certainly Irish immigration can be an overly romanticized myth, there’s is a lot of abuse and neglect woven in with the hardwork and overcoming the odds. It is, after all, a human story and so, grace abounds where sin abounds.
However, I think this essay is well done because, in its way, it highlights two imporatnt elements that often get overlooked amid the sentimentality, the green beer and “Four Green Fields.”
1. Upward mobility in America has always been, and remains, a multigenerational task. Producing university professors, great trial lawyers, authors, chefs, artisits, writers, etc.. from immigrant stock requires an intergenerational commitment to hard work, sobriety and family cohesiveness, not to mention a very strong dose of single-minded commitment to education at all levels. Barak Obama is beginning, I think, to articulate this concept in his campaign. It remains to be seen whether he continues to develop it as a serious political theme or whether it merely becomes a cynical stump speech element. His beginnings however, do give me hope that in 2008 we will ahve serious public discussion about just how hard it is to successfully pass on the American dream to our children.
2. I am struck by how much “successful” immigrants viewed the gift of American freedom as a freedom to live a certain way, as oppossed to a freedom from certain obligations. First generation Americans have a unique appreciation of what a precious and rare thing it is to be allowed to labor in the manner of one’s choosing, to keep the fruits of one’s labor, to devote one’s life to the rearing of ones children, to worship one’s god and (heaven forfend) to cultivate a happy and productive marriage. Freedom, for them, is not an absence of duty, but rather the necessary (although not sufficient) prerequisite for honoring one’s duties.