Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Irish" Literature vs. Chicano Literature--one's illegal in Arizona!

I'm a great and great-great grandson of Irish immigrants. And I fly that flag proudly. I've read a ton of Yeats, Joyce, and O'Casey; I've collected a fair amount of Irish traditional music; I spent a big chunk of one summer riding my bike through Ireland.

I also indulge a residual anger about the way my ancestors were treated by the 18th and 19th-century Brits. The Irish were viewed as a different race, and the British Parliment instituted specific, discriminatory penal laws designed to repress and/or punish that difference. I'm a Celt, not an Anglo-Saxon, by self-definition and by old British laws. And as far as we can figure, my O'Brien ancestors illegally snuck into the US through Galveston, Texas, on the run from the British Army after conspiring in an uprising against British occupation. 

Know what, though? In the 21st-century, I can PASS for American. Hell, I am American, by birth and by ideological loyalty. The only way someone learns about my ethnic heritage is from my last name. (Just like people know that Shaquile O'Neal is Irish becasue of HIS last name!)

But the grandsons of other immigrants can't "pass" like I can--and now their inability to pass can serve as probable cause for a police interrogation in Arizona.

I once got pulled over in Omaha for an inoperable tail light, and I was ticketed for failing to produce a driver's license because I'd left my wallet at home. If a legal resident of Arizona looks "illegal" to an Arizona cop, he can be pulled over, and if HE forgets his wallet, under their new law, he must be arrested. Race and/or appearance becomes probable cause, and shoddy documentation is treated like a felony.

But back to Irish Studies: I learned a lot about my "ethnicity" in formal classes at both public and private institutions. But again, Arizona differentiates between my ethnicity and that of the grandson of a Mexican immigrant. Or that of a Chiricahua Apache. Under another new Arizona law, it's okay for me to teach a "British Literature" class in Arizona--but not one on "Native American Literature." Teaching a class about the literature written by residents of Japanese internment camps would be illegal, too. But Holocaust Studies? That's okay.

The following paragraph from Salon catalyzed my thinking here:

"What [proponents of the Arizona ban on ethnic studies] would probably say is that there's American history and that's what should be taught in American schools, thank you very much. But what this kind of argument relies on is the assumption that white people's history is history, and everyone else’s is "ethnic studies," or worse, "teaching hate." [. . .] I'd have no problem with taking the teaching of this stuff out of the "ethnic studies" ghetto where it's kept and building it into the universal curriculum. Surely, every kid in Boston public schools learns about the Irish Potato Famine, right? Say it with me: Irish-Americans are white and English-speaking. That doesn't mean their history is more part of the special canon of universal American stories than, say, the mid-20th-century Bracero Program. And it definitely doesn't mean that an all-white class in Boston automatically becomes a breeding ground for racism when it studies the 1840s." 

No comments:

Post a Comment