TITLE: Wearin' Out the Green
DATE: 3/17/2005 02:45:00 PM
So, after perusing some other tributes to St. Patrick's day, it's become uncomfortably clear to me that in my previous entry and in my "wearin' o' the green" today and even my use of Google to find some Gaelic phrases, I may be contributing to "(a) remarkable assault on taste as well as Irish national sensibility perpetrated annually in the United States". At least, according to an essay by Patrick Belton in The Emigrant.
After all, I'm American, and not even 100% Irish. Is my observance that today is a day to celebrate my Irish heritage insulting to Irish people? Is my remembering today that I have great-great grandparents who broke their backs coming here from Northern Ireland and then broke their backs working on the eastern half of the Union Pacific Railroad lumping myself in with "pubgoers of the nuclear superpower talk over their green Miller Genuine Drafts...imagining that the peoples of England and Ireland were still fervently at war, or that the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square somehow still advertised that Irish need not apply"?
Like I said, the Irish have made a great spread over the world in the past two centuries. I have no doubt that the concept of Irishness in America--and in Boston, where it is so much of our cultural foundation, if not current reality--is different and perhaps off-putting to an actual native.
To that, I would have to respond that St. Patrick's day in America, in Boston, may be more about that overarching concept, that thread in our fabric, that underpinning of our current moment. That history, mythologized and cloudy though it may be; that sense of pride I have when I hear bagpipes play a militant tune, that seems to come from my spine itself, that makes it stand up a little straighter almost on its own; that faint shape to the noses, chins, eyes, freckles of the people I see around me every day, that people refer to as "having the map of Ireland on your face".
In a way, I guess St. Patrick's day doesn't really belong to the Irish at all.
I understand that Belton isn't necessarily condemning anyone who celebrates or observes St. Patrick's day. But his piece still stirred uncomfortable feelings in me, that maybe this is just another example of boorish American behavior, Americanness I am caught and embarrassed by at the most unexpected and often inopportune times?
I have never felt so terribly American as the times I have--either literally or figuratively--attempted to step into another country or culture, and the feeling always conjures an image of a bull in a China shop. As if the very admiration or fascination of an American makes other cultures' things ruined, broken, ugly, co-opted; as if other cultures smell that an American has been here like a bird who, smelling another creature has been there, abandons its nest.
Is this just another one of those times?