Wednesday, March 17, 2010

17 March: St. Patrick's Day

It's that time again, when everyone is Irish and happy (well, maybe not the English; too bad).

In Washington, Michele Obama had the water in the fountains dyed green, an homage to the Chicago practice of coloring the entire river green (for those of us who grew up in the region, it's an indelible memory and seasonal marker).

Here in Massachusetts, of course, the Boston area celebrates today as a legal holiday, "Evacuation Day," the anniversary of the British withdrawal from the city during the Revolutionary War—a date that just happens to coincide with St. Pat's.

In Amherst, the warm weather added to the fun. The Harp, our classic North Amherst Irish pub, opened its outdoor deck, and the cars of revelers extended for several blocks eastward, alongside historic Cowls lumberyard.

A few select links to celebrate the day:

• NPR had seven hours of streaming music

• Over at History News Network, Christopher Shannon's "The Wearing of the Green" offers some reflections drawn from his recent book on the representation of the Irish in film. He manages to take both a light-hearted look at the holiday and a serious look at definitions of race and ethnicity:
Well, it’s that time of year again. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, many Irish Americans prepare to celebrate their ethnic heritage, while many other Americans prepare to steer clear of the streets of major U.S. cities for fear of the celebrations that will ensue. I see some cause for hope in the fear. In our late date of the year 2010, at a time when most Irish Americans have moved out of the cities and assimilated into the white-bread safety of American suburbia, the 24/7/365 capitalist work time of the cities the Irish once ruled still comes to a halt for at least one day as Americans of all ethnic backgrounds throw themselves into an orgy of drinking, fighting, singing and dancing that flies in the face of the fresh-scrubbed wholesomeness of official, national American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Scholars of Irish American history who bemoan the reduction of Irish culture to the worst of nineteenth-century, stage-Irish stereotypes might do better to sit back and wonder at the simple, and almost miraculous fact of the continued existence of the St. Patrick’s Day parade—a private, ethnic religious holiday whose public celebration dwarves those of most official national state holidays.
. . . .
If the Irish appear at all in contemporary studies of ethnicity, it is more often than not as racists, the fully assimilated “white” people who serve as the demons in so much of the literature of “whiteness.”
. . . .
In many ways, the Irish racist has a place in the contemporary academic imagination analogous to that of the ape-like Paddy in the minds of nervous, middle-class WASPs in the nineteenth century. In making this criticism, I do not mean to deny the lamentable and deplorable reality of Irish American racism; still, we cannot equate racism with “whiteness” or assimilation. In fact, I believe the low standing of the Irish in mainstream studies of race and ethnicity reflects a historic reality deeper than racism: namely, the historic reality of the failure of the Irish to conform to scholarly expectations of what counts as ethnicity.
• One of the points that Shannon made is that the supposed happy endings of classic America films involving Irish (and Jews) generally "come not with the imagining of a utopian synthesis of ethnic and American, but when the individual reconciles himself to the community by coming to terms with the standards of the community." Coincidentally, in the Jewish Forward, Sarah Litvin discussed this cultural symbiosis in "St. Patrick’s Day With the Irish and the Jews: A Musical Mix of Pats and Isadores on Broadway and Beyond." The centerpiece of the story is singer Mick Maloney, and his recent album, "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews," whose title is drawn from an old lyric:

Talk about a combination, heed my words and take a note

On St. Patrick’s Day Rosinsky pins a shamrock on his coat…

…Without the Pats or Isadores, we’d have no big department stores

If it wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews.

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