I put my “Refugees Welcome” sign in my window along with a poster of a “Green” Statue of Liberty (Mother of Exiles) and got some snarky comments. From childhood I believed the United States of America took in the unwanted and downtrodden. I grew up in the notorious Dublin slums (1938-1957) on par with the slums of Calcutta, India.
As a child who loved American movies of the Wild West (bang bangs) I was determined to leave Ireland and emigrate to the spacious and beautiful landscape of the American West. The “Cowboy” movies took me away from the hovels.
In 1957, at age 18, I emigrated to America to marry a wonderful American GI I met on the streets of Dublin. I arrived with two dollars scrunched in the corner of my pocket. Since my arrival in the U.S.A., I experienced kindness, respect and opportunity to reinvent myself not available in the Republic of Ireland where poor families were considered the lowest forms of life.
After winning its Independence from British Colonialism, the new emerging Irish Republic, under the leadership of the Free State, copycatted the former colonizers. The newly elected government handed over the wealth and resources of the New Republic to a selected few at the expense of the many.
The poor and working class were excluded from having voice in governing their nation or having any input regarding human rights or equal opportunity for all Irish citizens. By the 1950s, Mother Ireland, under the fist of (church and state), became a dictatorship.
Currently the decade of the 1950s is regarded as the worst time in Ireland since the “Great Famine” when one million desperate Irish people fled to the United States to seek a better life. In the decade of the 1950s in Ireland half the population my age exited their native land to seek a better life in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
The blab about the bad economy of the 1950s is not the fault of the Brits, but the fault of the Free State Government who turned a deaf ear and blind eye towards its needy citizens. Dissenters were told to shut-up, take the boat or accept the risk of dying young (no medical care). The new aristocrats (church and state) built Manor homes and grand cathedrals while we begged for bread.
I put my “Refugees Welcome” sign in the window because I have faith in the goodness of ordinary people in the United States. The U.S.-led Imperialist wars in the Middle East devastated millions of families who risk all to emigrate for the sake of their children, as did families during the “Irish Famine” who boarded “Coffin Ships” that tossed like twigs in a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic Ocean to seek sanctuary in America.
If U.S. conservative politicians erase the “profound sentiments” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty by not giving sanctuary to shell-shocked refugees from the Middle East, ‘twill be the saddest day ever.
Angeline Kearns Blain is a retired sociologist and author living in Boise. Her most recent book is “I Used to be Irish.”