Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

Ganges

Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

A Message to Irish-Catholic Trump Supporters

Kelly

John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, sends an important reminder to pro-Trump Catholics who think immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

Kelly, an Irish-American Catholic from Boston, is either oblivious to the irony of someone with his family’s background trafficking in pernicious stereotypes or knowingly tapping into the power of caricatures to dehumanize people. Irish immigrants were similarly demonized in the nineteenth century when they fled the Potato Famine. Like the parents of today’s Dreamers, they took great risks in search of a better life for their family. The Irish were viewed as so alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority they were not even regarded by many as “white.” The Boston Globe described the zeitgeist of the era in a 2016 article.

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

It was out of this context that a nativist movement flourished. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, originally called the American Party, included eight governors, more than one-hundred congressmen, and held power in half a dozen state legislatures. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan expanded in New England and the Midwest, targeting immigrants and Catholics. A massive KKK rally in Worcester, Mass. attracted as many as fifteen-thousand people in 1924. At the end of the rally, the Klan clashed with Catholics who came to counter protest under a Knights of Columbus banner.

The politics of nativism is not new. But there is something particularly galling about Catholic members of this administration such as Kelly, and powerful members of Congress, including Speaker Paul Ryan, leading or enabling the contemporary incarnation of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia. Ryan posted a picture on Twitter this week showing him welcoming a member of the Irish Parliament. “Even if my Gaelic is a little rough,” Ryan tweeted, “always great to connect with my roots.”

Kelly, Ryan, and others should remember those roots included immigrants from a different place but with the same dreams. In the face of craven politicians who perpetuated fear and ugly stereotypes, those immigrants persevered and made America great.

Read the entire piece here.

The Great Irish Emigration

DiasporaAccording to historian Kevin Kenny, “one in every two American immigrants in the 1840s was Irish, and one in every three in the 1850s.”  Check out his recent Aeon piece on the Irish diaspora.

Here is a taste:

From 1700 to the present, fully ten million Irish men, women and children left Ireland and settled abroad. Remarkably, this figure is more than twice the population of the Republic of Ireland today (4.8 million). It exceeds the population of the island of Ireland, north and south (6.6 million). And it is greater than the population of Ireland at its peak in 1845, on the eve of the Famine (8.5 million). Some 70 million people worldwide claim Irish descent, more than half of them in the United States, where Irish is the second most common ancestry after German.

In the United States, the Irish found a kind of mirror, or complement: a nation of immigrants for a nation of emigrants. Most people know about America’s distinctive claims to be a nation composed of immigrants. Ireland’s status as the nation of emigrants to the modern world is less well-known but perhaps as unique and historic. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ireland had the highest emigration rate in Europe.

How are we to explain a historical phenomenon of this scale and impact? Irish emigration unfolded within two overlapping contexts: empire and diaspora. The imperial context helps to explain why people left Ireland and where they settled abroad. But only when empire is combined with the idea of diaspora do the full dimensions of Irish emigration emerge.

Read the rest here.

Another Reason Why Eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities Might Be a Bad Idea

In case you have not heard, Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal, released today, eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  This morning I wrote an extended piece on this development. We are currently shopping it around.

I have also been tweeting (follow along @johnfea1) older pieces from The Way of Improvement Leads Home in which I or others have defended the humanities.

In the meantime, here is another reason why the NEH might be useful.  Read this recent tweet from our Vice President:

I can’t imagine that mid-19th century Irish immigrants felt this deep sense of kinship.

Irish 1

Irish 2

Irish 3Irish 4