Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and while to many of you that simply means green beer and parades, to me, and many other Irish-Americans it means something else entirely.
You see, in Ireland, traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day has not been a big party. In fact, most see it as a very holy, somber day. There are parties there now, but for the most part they are put on to satisfy the tourists more than they are any real example of how the Irish view the day. No St. Patrick’s as celebration is entirely an Irish-American invention, and with good reason.
St. Patrick’s Day, to the Irish immigrant, was the day to be proud of where they came from. It was the day to show all those in America who would oppress them and try to force them out of the country that they were here to make a life for themselves and their family. It was the day to show the rest of America that the Irish were here to stay and they had as much rights to the American Dream as any other people.
As the generations have passed, however, the day has lost some of that meaning and it’s a shame. Most of us now live very comfortable, safe lives when compared to what our forefathers lived. We can’t fathom what it was like to come to a new country, to a country that welcomed them and hated them all at the same time. We can’t imagine having to sail across the Atlantic in a rickety, disease-infested boat with nary enough food and water to survive the trip, all to try and escape the oppression and famine that ravaged their homeland, only to be met by poverty and violence upon arrival. That we’ve forgotten this is much to our own shame.
Also, much to our own shame, is that we, as children of immigrants, would now deny the freedom from oppression and starvation that the Irish were able to carve out for themselves in America, to others. There are millions, if not billions, of people living without the freedoms we take for granted in the world today. Shame on us for turning our backs on them in order to keep our own, safe, lives from being disturbed.
Every human should have the right to his own beliefs and the right to try and make a life for himself and his/her family. No one, especially not those of us who have not had to live with oppression because of the sacrifices of our immigrant ancestors, should turn their back on the suffering of the world. Shame on us for allowing this suffering to go on in the name of “peace and understanding”. Shame on us for allowing parts of the world to be ruled by those who would oppress, rape, torture, and kill those who disagree with them. Shame on us for not speaking up in the defense of those who cannot speak up for themselves, and most of all, shame on us for losing the fortitude that our forebearers had to stand up against tyranny and racism so that they, and their children, might be free.
Today we look at a world in which billions of people are not free. Think about that for a moment, billions of people right now do not have the freedom to go about their lives. They do not have the freedom to worship any god of their choosing, do not have the freedom to work, or to even go outside, let alone such pleasures as dancing and singing. Basic human rights are denied to billions of people, not by the West, and the “evil” American government, but by their own governments and the tyrants that run them. Will we turn our back on those people? Will we watch their suffering and do nothing? Or will we demand their freedom and their rights with the same vigor that the Irish immigrants demanded ours?
So tonight, drink your green beer, lift your pints to St. Patrick. Most of all lift your pints in remembrance of the sacrifices made by the Irish immigrants, and the freedoms that you and I have by virtue of being born in America. Then think about those who don’t enjoy those freedoms and pray that they may come to know what it is like to truly be free.