Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
On this St. Patrick’s Day, I am thinking of two speeches, one by Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, which hit the mark and the other by Dr. Ben Carson, our new Housing and Urban Development Secretary, which fell short.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Kenny was in the White House to mark the occasion with the President. As he has for years but perhaps this year with even more fervor, he advocated for the over 50,000 Irish citizens who are illegal residents in America. He reminded his audience of their desire to contribute to America’s progress, and in so doing, he implied that they are not alone. Other immigrants also have the same desire. He then cast a backwards glance to the first waves of Irish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century and the hardships and the discrimination they faced but also the incredible contributions they made. As I listened to him speak, Frank McCourt’s prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, came to mind.
Dr Ben Carson also made a speech in which he referenced immigration a week ago. Carson is most known for his brilliant work as a neurosurgeon as well as for the inspirational story of his rise from poverty to the position of Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital. There are many things to admire about Dr. Carson but his remarks on March 6 fell short.
He was making a point about the hardships and accomplishments of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. He then referenced African American slaves who as “immigrants came in the bottom of slave ships worked even longer, even harder for less but they too had a dream.”
Surely Dr. Carson meant to say that African Americans were a part of one of the great forced migrations of all time. Surely he meant to say that they worked hard but worked hard and received no pay. Surely he meant to say that they had contributed much to the building of America but for these efforts, they would receive little credit.
African Americans, yes, came by ship but they did not come willingly. They were torn from home and hearth. Nonetheless, they helped to build America with their cultural traditions, their agricultural technology and with their grit.