I’m confident that my adult children are going to significantly contribute to the economic and social fabric of the United States. They, like most of us populating the U.S., are descended from immigrants to this land that once belonged to native people with very different beliefs than many of our country’s citizens have today. The novel I am writing has required me to do a lot of research on immigrants of the past. It’s shocking how similar the concerns about previous newcomers were so similar to those of today.
For several centuries, this country has been populated by people originating from other lands, bringing with them a variety of customs, beliefs, and religious doctrines. Many of these people were met with resistance because their beliefs were considered too radical. In the mid-1800s, the predominantly Protestant population in the New England region was fearful that Irish Catholic immigrants would not be able to pledge their allegiance to the country because their faith required allegiance to the Pope. I’ve been struck by the parallels between what my husband’s 19th century Irish ancestors who practiced Catholicism faced and what immigrants who practice Islam are facing today.
Those same Irish Catholics who were so feared in the 19th century literally helped build this country – its bridges, roads, water works systems . . . They eventually contributed to the growth of the economy by starting new businesses, despite that upon arrival to this country they were often greeted with employment signs stating, NINA (No Irish Need Apply). Many New Englanders were resistant to allowing Irish immigrants to have jobs where they would have contact with food or the public. The Irish were essentially regarded as “slave laborers” who were relegated to the most undesirable jobs. The Irish were willing to start out with those miserable, but necessary jobs so they could feed their families. As a result, they contributed to helping America thrive. In the process, they shared their customs and beliefs with their fellow countrymen, and today, Irish Catholics are no longer considered a menace to society. And they are no longer regarded as people with radical views. Eventually, a Catholic of Irish descent even became President of the United States. Sure, there were some undesirable Irish immigrants throughout history who caused trouble for America, but that is true of every nationality, every race, every religion. I know many undesirable people who were born right here in America – and ironically, many of them want to keep the “riffraff” from crossing our borders and entering our land.
I believe that it was good that my country’s doors were kept open 173 years ago to allow the Irish Catholic Ryans from Tipperary to enter. If fear of different cultures and seemingly “radical” religious practices had prevented them from experiencing this land of opportunity, then my husband never would have been born. My children who are sure to be productive American citizens that enrich the fabric of society, never would have been born.
I always believed that what has made my country great was the core theme of freedom for everyone, regardless of their views. That freedom has resulted in our country being an ever-evolving place that grows with the thoughts of its citizens. Very few of us would be satisfied today if the Puritan views that dominated this land in the 1600s were still the norm. Those Puritan ways changed and adapted as people with new ideas, different backgrounds, and a variety of faiths moved in. Change is the reason America is the land of liberties that it is today. I wish all U.S. citizens would enthusiastically welcome people of all nationalities, races, cultures, and religious beliefs, in order to continue the tradition of freely evolving as a nation.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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