Yesterday I heard a song called "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears" on my car radio, a song about Annie Moore, the teenage girl from Ireland who, on Jan. 1, 1892, became the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. She was given a $10 gold piece, the equivalent of $200 today. Annie was one of 4 million people who left Ireland for America in the 19th century, and like immigrants everywhere, she carried hopes for a new beginning, even as she left forever her home in a land that had become unlivable. Over a million people died in Ireland's Great Famine, and between 1845 and 1895 death and starvation cut the country's population in half. The Irish came in disruptive, unwelcome droves, overrunning the cities and overwhelming the culture. Catholics in a Protestant country, most spoke no English and almost all were desperately poor. A rural people from a hardscrabble land, they brought few marketable skills, found no welcome mats rolled out, and crammed themselves into ethnic slums.
Annie married Joseph Augustus Schayer, the son of German immigrants, with whom she had “at least eleven children,” and so for her the process of assimilation – the “melting pot” – began almost immediately.
Yesterday, the descendants of those millions of immigrants celebrated their history as both Irish and American, and on Boston’s 114th St. Patrick’s Day Parade, its organizers, the South Boston Allied War Veterans, at last lifted their ban and invited gay and lesbian groups to march.
The melting part enlarged, I think of Annie smiling.