Cead Mile Failte

Like most Americans, I’m a mutt. My ancestors came from different countries and over generations, they mixed. My mother’s side came from an impoverished land that was relatively new to modernity. It didn’t write its own laws; instead it was ruled by outsiders. At the time those ancestors arrived, they were no doubt considered germ-infested. And their religion was abhorred by many. People assumed they’d never be loyal to this country. They were dangerous. They ended up in menial jobs, doing the work “real Americans” were too good for.

My mother’s ancestors were Irish.

Had they been Polish or Italian, they’d have faced similar allegations of disloyalty. People would have claimed they wouldn’t assimilate either.

Guess what? The Irish never assimilate. Oh sure, they spoke the language by nature so that made it easier for them to fit in. But they lived in their own sections of town, sometimes not by choice. Most Irish didn’t become protestants. They kept their Catholic faith. It’s something they still identify by. They continued worshipping statues, in other words. They had dances. St. Paddy’s Day was their Fourth of July. Oh, and they hung “Cead Mile Failte” signs on their doors. That’s Gaelic for “100,000 welcomes.” Something they weren’t given when they arrived.

But it’s hard to say America isn’t better because the Irish brought some new wrinkles to the American fabric.

My father’s side is a bit more complex. His parents had already mixed ethnicities. His mother was Irish, his father Lebanese. When we bought our home in Wilkes-Barre, we unknowingly did so in the Lebanese part of town. There are two Maronite churches within four blocks of our home. There’s a Lebanese bakery. A Lebanese grocery store closed just a few months after we moved in.

There’s still a vibrant Lebanese community in Wilkes-Barre. Hell, our mayor is Lebanese. But our section of town is changing. Most of the Lebanese moved out.

I’m more likely to hear “Que pasa” than “Kifak” when I’m going for my nightly perambulation around the neighborhood, where most of the stores and restaurants have become Hispanic or Latin American.

My barber, Miguel, is reserved when he speaks English and much more animated when he speaks in his native Spanish. One of the other guys in the shop proudly told me he bought a home. The first his family had in America since they immigrated.

Like the Irish and Lebanese, the hispanics and Latin American are keeping large portions of their culture. This is what has made America great. It’s a place where you can talk about the zeitgeist during Oktoberfest, take in a ceili on St. Patrick’s Day, have Taco Tuesday and read about The Day of the Dead. The genius of America had been the cramming together of so many cultures.

The more cultures we add, the closer we come to being that shining city on a hill.

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