Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I grew up reading about America's founding ideology of "The Great Melting Pot." And in my formative years I read about the fallacies of that ideology, of the ways in which it fails, the ways it can be deconstructed, the ways in which the "melting pot" melts away upon closer inspection. And despite the fairy tales in history books about how our borders welcome all peoples, I remember being seventeen years old, working in a warehouse with a middle-aged woman who had lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts in the same house her entire life, working in warehouse jobs like that one for over twenty years. She talked on and on about how the Japanese were taking over the country, moving in, taking all our jobs. Being so young, I knew nothing of economics, but as the grandchild of immigrants, her speeches repulsed me. I knew instinctively that there was something wrong with this attitude, even though I couldn't say why.

Over the years I've heard this speech many times, about various ethnic groups. In fact, it seems like no matter where in the world you go, you can find someone saying this same thing about a group of immigrants, whether they are legal or illegal residents. It really makes you wonder what people with this opinion expect. Do they expect everyone in the entire world to stay put in the countries where they were born, for their entire lives, forever? Should no one cross boundaries?

A puzzling attitude I've seen here is the animosity towards people from other EU countries. It's as if people have forgotten that the benefits of having EU status works both ways: Irish citizens are free to work and live throughout the EU, but that means they must receive people from other EU countries. Then when it happened, in reality, it seems like people have panicked and would like to push them all out.

And the news reports don't seem to be helping. Take this article just from today, entitled, "Foreign nationals at higher risk of injury." The article says that since foreign nationals are usually doing a different job from the one they are trained to do in their country of origin, they are more likely to get injured on the job here in Ireland. In addition, "The researchers also found that the foreign workers sustained more severe injuries than Irish employees." And the newspaper doesn't fail to point this out that "The study, published in the current issue of the Irish Medical Journal (IMJ), found that most of the foreign nationals injured were from the new EU accession states." The message of the article is clear: hire Irish if you want the job done right and without a mess, and don't hire any of those new immigrants.

In other news from last Thursday, this article, called "Names hinder job search - survey", states, "Job-hunters with foreign names are twice as likely to be blackballed by potential employers than obviously Irish candidates, new research revealed today...The joint report by think-tank the ESRI and the Equality Authority also found high-levels of discrimination here compared with other countries." As many of you know, I have a very "ethnic" sounding name, so this article was yet another explanation as to why I haven't managed to drum up much action on my job applications in the past 5 months.

It all leaves me with a lot of food for thought. I never valued the American ideals before, always thinking of them as meaningless lip service. But I find that I am actually starting to miss that lip service. Maybe it was smoke and mirrors, a kind of dog and pony show. But when I look at the successes of my family and the families of my friends whose parents and grandparents were immigrants to America just one and two generations ago, and I think back to that incredibly hokey Naturalization ceremony I went to in September, I wonder if maybe it's impossible to get people on board to an idea without a little song and dance. I've had to go to "Diversity Training" and watch corporate videos on "diversity," until it's become a joke. But now it doesn't seem like a joke anymore. I understand what they were trying to do, even though their methods were probably ineffectual (you aren't going to turn a bigot around with a corporate video after all) -- they were trying to make the ideology of inclusion part of their corporate culture, just as America makes cultural inclusion part of their national identity.

Of course, it still doesn't actually work. I don't have to tell you about the racism that is rampant all over the United States. But it's something the ideological machine gets millions of people to strive for every single day. There are parades, school events, clubs, fundraisers, websites, and groups all over the country promoting cultural diversity. We let it hang out. Because if you ask your average American about their ethnic background, you're bound to get a mix. Personally, I'm Italian, Irish, English, and Native/French Canadian. My family certainly didn't come over on the Mayflower, that's for sure! I don't think America is ever going to re-brand away the Melting Pot story, and while I used to think it was a load of crap, I have begun to be glad for it. I would never say that I'm proud of my country, because sadly it has committed too many atrocities for me to feel any kind of American pride. But when I think about home, I think about that dog and pony show, and even though I know it's fake, it still gives me hope.

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