Nearly 40 million Americans claim Irish heritage according to the most-recent census. On Tuesday the 17th of March, at least 39 million of those Irish-Americans will be out on the streets, celebrating St Patrick’s Day- virtually every major American city holds an annual parade.
America is of course a nation of immigrants, where people are encouraged to celebrate their heritage. There are around 41 million African-Americans, 31 million Mexican-Americans, 19 million Italian-Americans, and pretty much countless other hyphenated Americans, all with their own celebrations and parades.
You know who doesn’t get a parade in America? You guessed it, Americans with British ancestry. In fact, you can’t even call them “British-Americans”- that’s not a thing. I don’t know why, it just isn’t. There are no British-Americans. I don’t mean they’re all dead or anything like that, it’s just more like if you come from British stock (or more specifically from English stock), you’re just not really considered to be ethnic at all. You might as well declare yourself “human-American” or “homsapien-American.”
English people are often quick to mock Americans claiming to be Irish or Scottish who go back to the isles as tourists. How can they be so thick as to wander around Galway or Aberdeen, claiming to be Irish and Scottish when they’ve never lived there and don’t know the first thing about the local culture?
I think the English might feel a bit left out. Why aren’t there any American tourists wandering around Croydon searching for their ancestral history? Where are the yanks who proudly proclaim themselves to be 50% English on their mother’s side, learning how to Morris dance to show the family back home? Where’s the England Day parade?
Interestingly, German people have the same problem. Despite something like 40 million Americans having descended from German immigrants, no one ever really claims to be German-American either. That’s also not a thing. There are no German Day parades in America where people go around eating wurst, singing along to oompah music while loudly proclaiming “Kiss me, I’m German.”
Next to the Irish, there are more Americans of British and German descent than from any other country. So why do some ethnicities get parades and others don’t?
It’s the oppression. And maybe the food.
The first Americans were of course actually English, so it may be that there’s just too much distance between the generations for any connection to be meaningful. This could also be said of the Germans, who steadily migrated over beginning as early as the 17th century. Irish, Italian, Mexican, and Puerto Rican immigrants though, came over in huge waves, many of them quite recently.
But I think it’s more than just the distance of time- those ethnic-Americans usually came over to the states in desperate bids to escape hardship- poverty, oppression or persecution. These immigrants would bring over with them, and hold onto tightly, bits of their culture so that they could maintain a connection to a home they often left unwillingly.
English and German immigrants, being first, essentially set the cultural tone for America, and later migrants from other countries had to adjust to fit in:
Hard-working people from protestant northern European nations with a history of being colonial oppressors, bad weather, stodgy food and an overly reverential respect for authority? Come on in ! Here’s a farm and 20 acres of land my brother.
Swarthy non-English speaking Catholics with a healthy mistrust of authority as a result of years of being oppressed? Well you can come, but you have to live in a slum, you must work on the railroads and you’ll have to take the occasional beating. But you get to have a parade once a year! And you can eat your strange food and sing songs of your homeland, when we’re not paying attention to you the rest of the year.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, rather than think about how all those Americans aren’t really Irish, maybe instead give a thought to why they’re throwing up green puke in the streets. That is the sick of remembrance, and their forefathers earned them the right to vomit any colour they want to. God bless America!