Ahh, St. Patrick’s Day… that one day we all claim to be Irish.  Well… just the fun parts.  The typical American can, I hope, tell you that the Irish came in big numbers in the mid 1800s because of the Great Potato Famine, which makes the Chipotle listeria crises… pardon the pun… small potatoes.

Unfortunately, Americans don’t understand that how we treated the Irish in 1850 is little different than how we treat Muslims today.  The parallels are striking.

imageConsider this Thomas Nast image from 150-some years ago and the stereotypes it displays. Is this all that far removed from Donald Trump saying that Mexicans coming across the Texas border are rapists?

Trump’s stomping on immigration smacks of mid 1800s anti-Irish Nativism.  This is supposed be the stuff of history books, things locked in the past to be studied half-heartedly because they couldn’t possibly happen again.

And  yet, they are. Today’s Tea Party is a direct descendent of this era’s Know Nothing Party that wasn’t about to sit quietly while immigrants, in their narrow minded view, overan the nation. Imagine if they would have had a Trump…

american_river_ganges_cropThe Irish, both foreign and Catholic, faced a double-barreled dose of hate.  The schism between Protestantism, America’s mainstream 19th Century religious view, and Catholicism isn’t all that far fetched with the myopic views some feel towards Islam today in comparison to Evangelical views today.  Bishops masquerading as alligators in the 1850s (see image to left)?  How about the mosques that allegedly are cauldrons of hate today?  Have we really learned from history?  Apparently not.

It would have been hard to imagine in 1850 that 150 years later Americans would singularly desire to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, celebrating a people and culture that many found objectionable and dangerous to the “native” American way of life.  The question remains, will we learn from history and the Irish how to handle modern immigrant groups?

  • J.

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