Monday, 24 September 2007

Immigrants are the icing on Ireland's cake - now let's layer them into the sponge!


"They're not the same as us, Charlie."
Looking deep and long into his Irish eyes, I wonder if he has any idea how that sounds to this Englishman.
"And what is 'Us', exactly?"
"Sure, we're the same, kind of, y'know. These fellas are different. Nothing wrong with them, mind, but not, y'know, just not like you and me."
Oh right, so now all of a sudden we're the same, kind of, are we?
This could have been a moment of great celebration. Having first set foot upon Irish soil 15 years ago, I have been only too conscious of being English.
If this little verbal exchange had opened the door to a life free from historical slagging, from gentle ribbing all the way to lacerating livid hatred, I might have been jumping up and down with glee.
But I wasn't, because it didn't.
Far from a liberating leap beyond the muddy shite of bigotry, yer man had merely promoted me in some kind of Racism Premier League.
Mind you, if the English are suddenly looking good (or at least, not so bad) to the Irish, you'd better be sure somebody else is getting it in the neck.
For months, years, I've been in agony, listening to lovely intelligent and lucid Irish people speaking indescribable drivel about immigrants, immigration, racism and xenophobia.
And then I realised that I was wrong.
No no no. I haven't suddenly seen beauty in fascism. There will be no burning upside-down crosses on the Adley lawn.
I was wrong because I pooh-poohed and ridiculed the Irish as they raved about the size and speed of the change. I was adamant that immigrants made up only a tiny percentage of the population, and then the census showed otherwise.
It was in England last week that I realised why I had failed to see the situation clearly.
Where I grew up, people of all colours, creeds and cultures lived together with a common nationality.
They didn't always get on with each other, but few ever doubted that they came from one nation.
The reason I failed to notice how many immigrants there were in Ireland was because this place is still a million miles away from that.
I love Ireland and the Irish, but I will love Ireland and the Irish a whole lot more when the native white Catholics stop being fearful of everything and anything that they perceive as different; when they realise how ridiculous are their demands for everyone to behave as they do; when they see how ignorant it is of them to want, expect and insist different people from different countries to completely conform and comply.
I will love Ireland and the Irish a whole lot more when they learn to love difference. The reason ye all got so upset with the Rev. Ian Paisley when he criticised the 'mono-ethnic monotheistic mono-cultural State' is that it was true.
Horribly true.
Bloody hard taking it from him, I'll admit, but true nonetheless.
Enlightenment has to first be administered by government.
The deeply sad truth is that while people like Conor Lenihan are happy to deny Sikhs employment in the Garda Siochana by banning the right to wear turbans; while it is acceptable for a Minister to display such arrogance as to declare that Sikhs must "fit in with our culture"; while we have a government that sanctions the withdrawal of that most basic human right: the freedom to worship, positive change will take generations.
When people are sent to prison for incitement to racial hatred, (as they are in civilised countries); when it is illegal for newspapers to report the ethnicity of a suspected perp (a Romanian did this, a non-national did this and a foreign national did that), unless it is relevant to the story, we might stand a chance.
I'm not crying for the moon here. Just asking hoping praying for a realisation to dawn upon the Irish psyche.
Yes, racism will always be with us. Despite losing 6 million of our own people to the Nazi gas chambers, I still have to endure the racist nonsense I hear in the Jewish homes of Northwest London.
But we do know that difference is good. Some people eat different food to us, sweat a different smell to us and sing a different song. They pray to a different god and go to different heavens. But they love their children, like to live in peace and enjoy good health.
Stop and wonder how it sounds when you wax lyrical about how great your country was with only one skin colour and one religion.
"Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!" ring any bells?
Let's talk cake. Immigrants in Ireland are at the moment just the icing on Ireland's cake. They sit on the outside of your society, visible and obviously different. Already they offer something new, something sweet and exciting, but they are far from being an essential part of the fabric of our everyday lives.
With racism spared for the English, the Travelling community and Protestants in the North, the old Irish sponge cake was a bland ethnic affair. Completely white and mostly Catholic, any change or integration was resisted.
Ever since your independence, all you've had is one flavour, one colour and one shape.
Now you have the chance to add something to the sponge.
Instead of fuming about how the eastern European fella has an 05 Opel Astra, or being upset because the funny-looking woman is talking with a funny-sounding accent; instead of walking past a black taxi driver at the rank, or refusing a drink to anyone who looks nothing like your own family, add a little Essence of Wisdom to the mix.
Instead of leaving out all the new and different ingredients, to later scrape as icing hanging on the edges, why not layer the sponge with different flavours?
Irish culture is unique, strong and often wonderful. It will survive intact, but your lives will be richer with humanity, and happier for the variety.
If all this cake stuff seems a tad trite and simplistic, that is because it is simple.
Instead of hanging on to the way you've always been, make that leap: The greater the variety of colours, flavours, sugars and spices, the mightier the cake.
Sure, you never know. Maybe the Irish layer cake will taste better than you ever imagined.

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Buddy,

I'm a French Vietnamese woman - that does not mean that I'm half of each, but I was born in France from Chinese-Vietnamese parents - I lived in Ireland for five years and I did enjoy your comment a lot.

Although, as you stated it too, I loved Ireland and the Irish too and will always love them, I wanted to leave the country because of being afraid of an untasty cake. After 5 years, the nice taste wasn't the same for it has lost its flavour after many waves of immigration which have occured since 2000. I did not want to forget this flavour and be disgusted for good, I wanted to leave Ireland with a good memory all of the people I had loved, all the dream like vision of its landscape and of what Eire had brought to my life.

I did not want to leave the country in tears as I landed there in tears because of too much cultural differences - my fault I suppose, I had always wanted to visit Ireland. I couldn't guess that I would live there for a long time ! - I wanted my tears to be for a loving one ( as I consider Eire to be a " person " ) and not for sadness. I'm quite happy to keep all this love deep in my heart and recollect it when I hear a sad Irish tune or a happy one to make me realized how my life had been wonderful and thanks to the confidence Ireland has given to me, my life can still be wonderful because of Irish wonderful natures who had blessed me with amazing and great humanity.

Some Irish would say " Oh well, thank God you went back to your fucking country, you fucking foreign bitch ", but still... Your people had undergone a great deal of troubles throughout the centuries and still have to undergone the split of your country, but all of you have not lost their humanity and I hope and I pray to your God that you will never lose it.

Togé go bogé,

N** Murphy from Rossaveal, as a loving ederly person used to call me this way.