Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Voices of Liberty – The Irish Version

To extend the reach of our Emma Lazarus exhibition, we are asking our fellow culturally ethnic arts institutions to blog about the immigration experience and how it affected their culture. Our friends at the Irish Arts Center, co-sponsors of tonight’s program with Lucette Lagnado and Malachy McCourt, have blogged about the Irish. But you will see, as with our Voices of Liberty soundscape, that certain experiences are universal.

The first half of the 20th century saw a new wave of immigrants from Ireland, many traveling alone to aunts, uncles, and distant cousins already settled in the U.S. Immigration in Ireland was often seen as an inevitability, a thing that “had to be done,” with few opportunities for employment to sustain the country’s population.

The quotes below, taken from recent interviews with Irish immigrants to the tri-state area for the Irish Arts Center’s photographic exhibition To Love Two Countries, captures a brief glimpse of the hopes, fears, and experiences faced by many. Though these individuals belong to a specific immigrant community, the themes discussed reflect a larger immigration experience: leaving one’s country of birth for the unknown, the desire to seek greater opportunity, and the need to make a new place, though an ocean apart from family and friends, feel like home.

“I came to NY on my own at the age of 20… The person who was originally meant to meet me off the boat never showed up. It was a neighbor's brother who then came and collected me to begin my life in New York. I had no expectations other than working hard and making a decent living.” Jimmy Clarke, b. 1906, arrived in U.S. in 1927 from County Galway

“You can love two countries – Ireland will always be the land of my dreams.” Sr. Geraldine Flannery, b. 1916, arrived in U.S. in 1939 from County Galway

“My mother always talked about the United States – America – the opportunities. I only intended to come for a short a time. But I got involved in Irish céilí music, met a lot of friends and for that I wouldn’t leave them or the music they were playing. I like the country very much.” Joe Cunningham, b. 1912, arrived in U.S. in 1929 from County Clare

“It was all new to me. I came out of a farm and I thought there would be nothing but concrete and houses. When I came here I thought I’d see no trees, no nothing, but it was very different than what I thought. It was beautiful.” Jerry O’Connor, b. 1923, arrived in U.S. in 1948 from County Limerick

Photo of Joe and Rose Cunningham

No comments: