March 15, 1990
For St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green, a leprechaun and green-hats parade down State Street and Michigan Avenue. It will be broadcasted throughout the day while a lot of drinking of green-dyed refreshment accompanies songs my father used to sing to my mother like “My Wild Irish Rose.” In school, I learned “Galway Bay,” and in college, I finally understood the meaning of “The Blaitheskythe: He whistled and he sang until the green woods rang, and heeee won the heart of a la-a-a-dy!” (“Blaitheskythe” is Gaelic for a man who loves love).
For years, I didn’t like being 62.5% Irish. That’s how we Chicagoans talk. Chicago has always been a city of immigrants. I grew up after World War II when many European and Eastern Europeans had moved to Chicago, the Second City after New York, because it was a city where people could always find work. “What nationality are you?” was the Chicago equivalent to the late Sixties “What’s your Zodiac sign?”
I didn’t like being Irish because two Irish stereotypes were too close to home: the Irish drinking and the Irish craziness. My mother told me Chicago wasn’t always so happy with its Irish either. When she was looking for a job in the late 1930’s signs posted outside stores and offices announced, “NO IRISH.”
Every St. Patrick’s Day this denial of my 62.5% self became more ridiculous. Not all Irish are drunk and crazy. Some of them are wonderful storytellers, have a love for life, robust laughter, fair skin, freckles and many have reddish-tint hair, like myself.
I was looking through a new friend’s photographs and asked to see one more closely. It had looked like a relative. The friend said, “Oh, she’s Irish.” If I were “to go back to Ireland,” I might easily blend in with the locals, the leprechauns and four leaf clovers.