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Acquiring an Ethnic Identity, Essay Example

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Essay

Acquiring an ethnic identity [Irish-American] was the first prerequisite for Irish assimilation

The Irish Potato Famine of 1846-1851 recorded the highest number of Irish emigrants into the United States in U.S. history. This, as a consequence, sealed their fate in America. According to Edward Laxton in The Famine Ships, a decade since 1841 Ireland had lost about three million nationals, from a population of over nine million to just over six and a half million in 1851. And in his literal work A Nation of Immigrants, John F. Kennedy wrote that most of the Irish settled mainly in the cities along the Eastern seaboard (Kenny, 2000, 117-227). This was because they could hardly afford for fare to travel after reaching ashore. On a different note, however, this time round the immense preponderance of the Irish emigrants were Catholic along Gaelic speakers. This contradicts a popular misconception that the Irish were easily assimilated into America due to the ease with which they spoke English as compared to other groups.

According to Andrew Greeley the early coming of the Irish people, their skills and language as well as their political and religious power all contributed towards the Irish Catholics acculturating to American society much faster as compared to other group but the Jews. Due to high rate at which the American economy was expanding the Irish had to ‘make it’ given the fact that they provided a huge pool of laborers with knowledge of the language.

According to Shannon the indigenous Americans looked down at the Irish People as ignoble.

However, they did not foresee how indispensable they were to become in the time of the America’s industrial expansion. For instance, having built the N Y City the Irish earned their right as preeminent New Yorkers which would be expressed in the slogan: “We built it. We won it. We run it!” (Kenny, 2000, 117-227).

In How the Irish Became White, Noel Ignatiev points out that in spite of their white skin the Irish earned their membership to the white race as they the were despised  and frequently referred to as, “niggers turned inside out,” and negroes were often called, “smoked Irish. They desperately wanted to be ingrained into the American society and they achieved this by accepting to do jobs that were previously only done by slaves. This was the reason why they were likened to blacks.

Dennis Clark notes the Irish were more dependable and valued relative to slaves, principally those recently arrived, for they could handle risky jobs as compared to slaves. For instance, they were employed in dangerous loading zones in ports because they did not ask to be paid unlike slaves. This enabled them to become more effortlessly assimilated in to the American society.

Dennis Clark also notes that the Irish was catholic while the American was a protestant which meant that the Irish did not take part in the puritan covenant. It is worth remembering that the Irish due to their religion had suffered under British Penal Laws for the last century. However the faith survived giving them an even greater resolve and desire to reestablish their Roman Catholic institutions in America (Kenny, 2000, 117-227).  Andrew Greeley notes that the one thing the Irishman possessed irrespective of the circumstances surrounding him was religion, an attribute he could not let go. In 19th century America, religion became the yardstick for measuring an individual’s social, economic, and political status compared to secular considerations. This greatly enabled the Irish to become more ‘assimilatable’ to the American society, given their strong religious background (Kenny, 2000, 117-227).

Thus a host of factors such as cheap labor supply, strong religious and political backgrounds as well as ease of language and color worked in unison to the assimilation and the identity of today’s Irish-American acculturation. Ethnic identity was not a prerequisite due to ‘nativism’ of the ‘Native American.’

The Irish people have blended successfully in the American society having higher opportunities relative to other ethnic groups. Consecutive generations have been incorporated in to the dominant culture of the Americans. Most of the immigrants before 1900 took the unskilled labor at the bottom line of economic ladder in America. They have taken part in field of mining, building bridge as well as canal, quarrying and the construction of the railway for men and menial occupations for their women (Kenny, 2000, 117-227).   Due to the limitation of Irish professionals in the American economy, the contribution of labor unions has bee insignificant in raising the living standards of the Irish

Work cited

Kenny, Kevin. The American Irish: A History 1st Ed. London:  Longman, 2000.Works cited

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