Tag Archives: Irish-American Culture

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly over. I didn’t do too much this year– I wore my requisite green shirt, and striped green socks, and even drank a holiday themed beer in the evening, however overall the day was relatively low key, as P and I were both busy working on projects, shackled to our respective computers.

Conversely, P’s younger brother U was in Dublin, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style with our Irish friend RH and our former neighbor D (who several months ago resettled in the Emerald Isle). U was periodically uploading pictures of his St. Patrick’s Day activities on Facebook, giving us a glimpse of what the party was like in the Irish-American “motherland.”

U, RH and D in Dublin

I’ve mentioned before that my family considers itself “Irish-American.” On my mother’s side my grandfather immigrated from Western Ireland (I believe in the 40s), and my grandmother’s parents were also both from that region of the country. On my father’s side the connection stretches back farther, but the family still takes pride in it’s “Irish-American” roots. As an “Irish-American” St. Patrick’s Day has always been an acknowledged and celebrated part of the spring calendar.

Growing up my father was part of an Irish-American club in the town, and I remember many childhood St. Patrick’s Days spent at the club helping to serve corned beef and cabbage dinners to townspeople who came by the hundreds every March 17th. Many of them probably considered themselves “Irish-American” as well but I’m sure others just wanted to join in the fun and celebrate along with their friends and neighbors.

We would watch Irish step dancers perform and listen to recordings of Irish pub songs that relied heavily on accordions and fiddles. Everyone in the club was bathed in Kelly Green… shirts, pants, dresses, socks, scarves. Some wore plastic shamrock shaped shot glasses hanging from green Mardi Gras bead necklaces, others wore headbands with cheesy shamrock antenna, and little kids often sported sparkly green shamrock stickers on their cheeks. As far as I was concerned, as a kid, everyone in the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.

Then in sixth grade I signed up for a youth magazine that had a pen pal section in the back. For several years I often responded to pen pal requests, and I advertised for pen pals as well. I had quite a few, some in the US, but also several from abroad– including one kid I exchanged several letters with from Singapore. He had responded to my pen pal request printed in the magazine, explaining he was of Indian origin and his name was Manuj. In response to the letter he sent I told him a little about myself, and talked about my excitement for St. Patrick’s Day, which was coming a few days later. In the letter I asked him about how he celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and what people do for the holiday in Singapore.

A few weeks passed and I received a letter back that contained shocking information for the sixth grade version of me… “We don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Singapore, as there are not a lot of Irish people here. Since my family is from India, we have never done anything for St. Patrick’s Day, but it was interesting to hear what your family does.” It was one of those “aha” moments for me that made me realize that other parts of world really are different.

After meeting our Irish friend, I’ve had several other “aha” moments about my understanding of “Irish-American” culture, and how it differs from “real Irish” culture– including my name. I think I mentioned this before, but I always thought my first name was a super-uber Irish name, but later realized (and this really shook up my world!) that my name is only popular in Irish-diaspora cultures like the US and Australia, and hardly anyone in Ireland proper has my name because it is a gaelic noun.

I think RH had similarly strange “aha” moments (I am assuming, he can correct me if I am wrong) after coming to the US for his graduate studies. Many Americans, particularly in New England which is a large “Irish-American” stronghold, had a lot of stereotypical views of what an “Irish” person was supposed to be like, and RH often didn’t adhere to their expectations.

So when U decided to travel to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day RH was a little worried that U would be disappointed. St. Patrick’s Day is often an excuse for people in the US to go a little crazy, drinking green beer and sharing their Irish pride all over the place… but these crazy celebrations are often in Irish-diaspora cities. Dublin has a parade and celebrations, but RH worried that U might expect the biggest St. Patrick’s Day party ever, the granddaddy of them all, so to speak.

It seems from the pictures that the festivities were fun, and U had the “authentic” Irish St. Patrick’s Day party he was hoping for.

If you are interested in learning more about the creation of “Irish-American” cultural identity NPR had an interesting 45 minute radio program on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” the other day called “How the Irish became American” arguing, in part, that “Irish-American” identity was one of the first hyphenated identities in the US. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Hope you all had a nice day… whether you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day or not :)

What’s in a Name?

About a year ago 4B introduced me to the British comedy serial “Goodness Gracious Me” and their sketches really are priceless. Many of their sketches explore the conflict and integration between traditional Indian culture and modern British life. And some, like the following, reverse the roles to view the British from an Indian perspective or poke fun at Indian stereotypes.

“Jonathan”

I saw this particular sketch back then, but recently an acquaintance reposted it on facebook and it reminded me of a post I wrote about a year and a half ago called “Pashwa’s Name.” The writing of the original post was inspired by the fact that many of my family members were finally writing P’s name correctly on Christmas cards after 6 years of crazy spellings like: “all sorts of variations, often with “Os” and “Zs” and “Ss” and “Hs” (letters that he doesn’t have in his name at all!) … My dad used to write his name as “Pazz” for several years, while [my Grandmother used the name] “Pashwa” which [she] still kinda calls him.”

The first time my mother met him they went through this exchange:

Mom: “Does your name translate into something in English?”

P: [honestly ponders this question for a few minutes…] “Well, I guess you could say light or maybe bright light.

Mom: [looks a bit puzzled, this was not how she expected him to answer the question. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. She was thinking something like “Patrice” is the French form of “Patrick,” and “P” is the Nepali version of “Peter”] “Huh? Light? I was thinking Peter or Paul or something like that. Don’t you have an English name?”

P: “No, I guess I’m just P_______ or you can call me P__ for short.”

The “Jonathan” sketch also reminds me of my new freshmen students during international orientation. At one point we had them stand up and introduce themselves, and there were quite a few students who introduced themselves by English names instead of their original more “ethnic” sounding names.

This happens a lot with Chinese students, who are often advised by educational consultants back home to pick an English name since many Chinese sounds are butchered by our American tongues. From experience I know that Burmese students tend to have particularly challenging names—not necessarily long names like Thai or Sri Lankan (I have ten Thai students this year and the average number of letters in their last names is 16!)—but Burmese names tend to have strings of letters you don’t expect to be next to each other—this year I have one student whose first name is Hnin Pwint. I tried several times to say it properly, and the poor girl kept correcting me, and finally she said she goes by the name “Snow.” (Also kind of interesting, since I don’t think it snows in Myanmar).

One of our new Nepali students also has a challenging name—Kshitij. I had to check with some friends before I met him to make sure I was saying it correctly—it is pronounced kind of like chee-teej, but when he stood up to introduce himself to the new students he proudly told the audience his name was…

“Ken.”

When I got home that night I told the P family that one of my Nepali students didn’t want to use his Nepali name, and decided to call himself by an American one.

“Why would you do that?” P asked, “Having an ethnic name is kind of cool. It’s different. It makes you stand out.”

I was a little surprised by P’s answer, since his name can and has been butchered as well, however I also agree. My name is “ethnic” in that it is mostly used by Irish-Americans (or perhaps other Irish-in-diaspora communities*), and although the combination of my first name and last name is quite common within these communities (if you google it, you will get pages of “CCs” that are not me, and as the original C____C____@gmail.com email account I get emails for the wrong “CCs” all the time!) it’s not that common of a name in general. Whereas I had a truckload of “Jennifers,” “Elizabeths,” “Marys,” and “Sara(h)s” as friends growing up, it wasn’t until high school that I met another “C” at an event I attended. During my school age years I don’t think I could have dealt with being in a room and someone calling out “C!” and more than one of us turning around to ask, “What?”

If/When P and I decide to have kids, I think we are probably in agreement that we would want to name them something  “different” but we will have to keep in mind that it should be pronounceable by both my family and his.

So I guess no “Jonathans” or “Kshtijs” for us.

* I wanted to quickly note that all my life I thought of my name as very “Irish” not “Irish American” until our (real) Irish friend RH told me that no one in Ireland is actually named “C.” It’s a noun in Ireland, and has been appropriated by Irish-in-diaspora descendants as an “Irish” name. It really rattled my world when I found out that my supposedly super-Irish-name was really inauthentic… although I guess not really, since I am not really “Irish” but “Irish American.” If it is an “Irish American” name, I guess it actually is authentic in my case.

Irish (Heritage) People Have Two Looks: Pinky-White and Lobster

I think that the title of this post says it all. People of Irish heritage literally have two looks: pinky-white-paleness and, for lack of a better word, lobster-colored—or should I say, lobstah (with a thick Bahston accent).

We don’t turn a nice medium brown shade of tan in the sun, like other ethnicities (P included!), we just cook. It’s not fun.

I’ve had my run-ins with the sun before. Two incidents in particular come to mind: in Kenya and on my way to becoming engaged. I’m not anticipating another nasty sun episode, but now that the sun has finally reached New England I’ve realized I have to play it smart (wicked smaht) for the next few weeks—because my wedding gown is strapless, but I always wear sleeves. I never really thought about my arms, neck and face being more pinky-red then my shoulders, chest and back. I might be multi-colored by July 10th!

I guess I’ll have to slather on sunscreen. Or wear a hat and light weight long sleeves. Perhaps this will be a good new routine for me.

It’s unfair because P rarely has to deal with the less pleasant qualities of the sun. Granted, the sun’s rays are still harmful to darker skinned people, but it seems to give them less pain if they are out all day in it. I remember the first time P had a “sunburn.” It took all day in the strong equatorial sun of Kenya. At the end of the day he said, “Ow, my neck kind of hurts.”

Me: “I think you have a sunburn.”

Him: “I’ve never had a sunburn before, ouch, this is what it feels like? It kind of hurts!”

Welcome to the club.

Likewise, I remember small children in Kenya and Tanzania asking me questions about my freckles, my sun-induced pinkness, and my clothing-induced whiteness. They would ask me, “Why are you so many colors? I’m just one color.”

“Hmmm,” I’d ponder out loud, “Mzungus are kind of like chameleons. Our skin likes to change.” (Come to think of it, I probably gave a few small kids mzungu nightmares).

Anyway, on my wish list for future potential children– I hope they get his skin, at least they can be spared the Celtic curse of lobsterdom!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (again)

It’s March 17th– so that means I’m wearing green, I’m ready to meet friends for a beer after work, and perhaps even make a “boiled dinner.” That’s right, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I wrote about the meaning of the holiday last year in my family, so this year I’ll write about something related but different.

Working in the field of International Education is great. I frequently talk to people from different countries, and I am always learning new things. This past week I attended a program organized by my Iranian students about Nuwroz (Persian New Year), and had a chance to share in various cultural activities. I also get to experience a lot of Nepali cultural activities, and although I do hold my own with organizing Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween (etc) …  there is one cultural activity I wish I had partaken in while I was younger so I could tap (literally and figuratively) into this particular skill today.

When I go to a lot of these cultural programs there are often many songs and dances from the local region. I’ve been put on the spot many a time when I’ve been asked, “sing an American [or Irish] song” or “do an American [or Irish] dance.” Sure, I can break out with a chicken dance, but I’d really love to break out with… some Irish Step Dancing moves.

See, when I was in high school my younger sisters signed up for Irish Step Dancing lessons at the local AOH club my dad was a member of. At the time I was on the high school swim and track teams (not that I was any good), and thought I was too cool to go to “dancing” class. Each St. Patrick’s Day the Irish Step students would put on a show for people coming to eat the corned beef and cabbage sandwiches and green beer at the club, and I would sit with the rest of the crowd while my sisters tapped their feet and danced with the group.

Now I really wish I took those classes too. How neat would it be to be in a crowd of people singing and dancing to Nepali songs, be prompted to show something from “my” culture, and jump up to perform an impressive jig? One night my Irish friend and I even looked at Irish step dancing videos on Youtube to try and get some of the footwork down, but it’s actually pretty complicated and challenging. I think I almost pulled a calf muscle!

Maybe one of these days, when I’ve got some spare time and cash, I’ll sign up for a class. I think it would be fun… and I’d totally volunteer a jig at that next cultural gathering!

(If only I could dance like these girls…)