Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Paddy

Several of us went out last night, ending up at Mulligan's off of Ebenezer. The place was filled with carousing young souls, inebriated already and up to their eyeballs in gaudy green paraphernalia. I suppose the saddest part is that we were all there for the same reason - it was a "legitimate" excuse to drink yourself silly on a Tuesday.
But how did Saint Patrick become a token of alcoholism? The History Channel points out this important note:
Up until the mid-nineteenth century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to a million poor, uneducated, Catholic Irish began to pour into America to escape starvation. Despised for their religious beliefs and funny accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country's cities took to the streets on St. Patrick's Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys.
However, the Irish soon began to realize that their great numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting block, known as the "green machine," became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick's Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates. In 1948, President Truman attended New York City 's St. Patrick's Day parade, a proud moment for the many Irish whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in America.
So why on earth would the Irish allow their celebration to be usurped by non-Irish people, who behave precisely the way that causes the stigma the Irish were fighting to remove? When did it become "legitimate" to behave like "drunk, violent monkeys" in order to celebrate a Christian holiday and important part of Irish heritage? We drink green beer and horrendous "shamrocktinis" which - I kid you not - had the flavor, texture and medicinal aftertaste of Nyquil, yell like a bunch of drunks at a fraternity party and wake the next morning to tell our tales of debauchery around a shared aspirin bottle. And all the while, we forget who Saint Patrick was, what it means to have a feast day for a saint, and how difficult it is to overcome racial and cultural stereotypes.
I think next year, I'll stay home.

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