Several of my wife’s cousins wanted to know more about the background of my wife’s grandmother who had a huge impact on the family. Unfortunately, very little was known about her.
It turns out that she descended from Irish immigrants who arrived in America between 1834 and 1872. Those ancestors lived primarily in Irish slums in New Haven and New York.
Most of the men were day laborers while the women were “housekeeps”—the 19th century term to describe cleaning ladies. Based on information in the census records and contemporaneous local newspaper accounts, these folks struggled to stay employed. Gangs played an unfortunate, but substantive, role in their communities.
Clearly, based on their occupations and the neighborhoods in which they lived, my wife’s ancestors lacked social mobility.
Prior to my research, I realized that Irish Americans were marginalized and ostracized, however, I had not previously focused on the extent of this mistreatment. Advertising for employment was frequently accompanied with the phrase “Irish need not apply.”
In the 1800s Irish were not allowed to work in many occupations because of erroneous stereotypical perceptions that they were violent alcoholics.
Despite the hurdles, my wife’s grandmother was able to complete high school and attend college.
In 1921, she met my wife’s grandfather (who was not Irish), and a year later, she married him. Thus, my wife’s family was another example of the power of the American melting pot in overcoming prejudice.
Today, the Irish are a solid bedrock of mainstream Americana and it is hard to imagine that they were subject to such unfounded derision and treated as second class citizens for nearly a century.
Unfortunately, other minority groups have stepped into the shoes of the Irish.
Over the past few days, several people forwarded to me virtually identical email messages with a heading saying “A few fun facts about Dreamers.” The email lists six purported facts and then asks, “Exactly what positive impact are these Dreamers having on our communities and society? What type of scam is our government running against Americans?”
When I first read the message, it was obvious that many of the statements could not possibly be true. After receiving several of these messages, I decided to look online to see what information I could find about Dreamers in general and this message in particular.
I won’t dignify the email message by discussing its purported facts. Five of them have been debunked and the sixth is a true statement taken out of context. (The best lies contain some element of truth.) If you would like to read more about the specifics, refer to www.snopes.com/facts-about-dreamers-meme/.
Addressing the Dreamer issue and dealing with DACA is complex with no easy answers that will make everyone happy. But our best chance of having a reasoned discussion and reaching an optimal conclusion is dependent on everyone having a correct understanding of all the pertinent facts.
Facts do not include false statements, such as those contained in inflammatory email messages that are clearly intended to stir up an emotional response. Indeed, these messages are reminiscent of what was said about the Irish in the 19th century.
I have no idea who originated these messages, but the originator clearly wanted to divide our society and disrupt our ability to resolve the Dreamer issues. The meme apparently started on Facebook, and in light of recent revelations about the misuse of social media to spread divisive messages, we can only imagine who started this particular message.
Each of the persons who forwarded the messages are longtime friends. I have a deep respect for each of them.
Certainly, none are bigots.
Yet, presumably each one believes, to some extent, that the purported facts are true, or else they would not have forwarded the message to me.
We live in a world where social media can rapidly propel a message to millions of people. That message may be factually based and informative, or it may be of a more nefarious nature seeking to divide stakeholders and sow discontent.
For many, dealing with the possibility that their preconceptions are inaccurate, or incomplete, is outside their comfort zone.
Change is stressful.
Thus, many people tend to be attracted to media that reinforces their preconceptions, frequently hardening their views. This same dynamic perpetuated Irish stereotypes and the resulting discrimination for decades.
In this age of being bombarded by an overflow of information, we have to exercise considerable skepticism with respect to information we receive—particularly if it is emotional in nature.
While the possibility of having to consider another viewpoint may be uncomfortable, the collapse of reasoned discussion is far worse.
Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.