It is tempting to say that I do not have an ethnicity. I suppose I’ve just never felt particularly connected to it because English language culture is the dominant, or at least the foundational culture here in the United States, and my other Northern European ancestries, Danish, Dutch, and German, are related closely to the British Isles. My discomfort with ethnic celebrations, then, could be placed in the same category as the white man complaining about Black History Month or Women’s Studies. At least it would be the case if my complaint targeted their mere existence, but it does not. It is the incongruity of it, or at least the yawning chasm which separates the professed significance of the love for one’s heritage from the weak actions it inspires.
While I’ve never really understood the Italian obsession with Columbus Day (He may have been Italian, possibly, but he wrote mostly in Catalan, and anything of any significance he ever did he did for Spain) it is Saint Patrick’s Day which I find most puzzling. In western Massachusetts St. Patrick’s Day means Holyoke, and Holyoke means the nation’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Watch the news, read the newspaper, go to the Internet, and what you see are people by the thousands wearing “the” green, donning shamrocks, and doing anything else to celebrate their Irish heritage. Anything that is, except moving back to Holyoke.
Note vacant building in background:
It is impossible for me to understand how people can claim to feel so connected to their heritage and so drawn to the city that most embodies its local roots only to visit its decaying ruins for one day a year and then skulk back to milquetoast (English!) suburbia for another year. Holyoke is a gorgeous one of a kind city bounded by river and mountain. Its canals make it the Brugge of the United States. I have lived and worked with people for whom their Irish ancestry, they claim, is the primary definition of who they are, not a day goes by but some action or character trait is ascribed to their being Irish. Perhaps, but apparently it isn’t worth working year ’round as a people to preserve the amazing urban legacy your Irish ancestors created.
To me, it’s like visiting your aging mother at your ancestral home once a year to celebrate your love for her and to recognize all that she has done for you, and then taking a dump on the front porch as you leave. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.