Ukrainians and Irish have a lot in common | RUBEN NAVARETTE JR


There’s no better way to celebrate Irish American Heritage Month than to cheer on the brave people of Ukraine.

Like the Irish, Ukrainians weren’t brought up on sugar cookies and sunny days. So they’re tougher than anything the world throws at them.

Like the Irish, Ukrainians have survived centuries of war, famine and civil strife. Yet they are still standing – and still fighting.

And, like the Irish, the Ukrainians will not be pushed around. What the British learned about the Irish during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), the Russians are now learning about the Ukrainians: if you violate their homeland, you risk being buried there.

Accurate casualty figures are always difficult to obtain in the fog of war. But, according to CBS News, US military and intelligence officials estimate that – since the February 24 invasion – between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian troops have been killed by Ukrainian forces. Expect this number to increase.

Ukrainians surely have Irish courage in them. They are fighting for the same thing the Irish fought for – whether as immigrants to America from 1820 to 1930, or combatants in the Anglo-Irish War: their identity.

This time of year, whatever’s going on in the world, I hit “pause” and pay my respects to Irish Americans.

This year, my punch to the green received an assist from President Joe Biden – who would be five-eighths Irish himself. He declared March to be Irish American Heritage Month and urged everyone to “celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish Americans to our nation.”

Between 1820 and 1860, Irish people made up more than a third of all immigrants to the United States. And the approximately 4.5 million Irish immigrants who arrived in America between 1820 and 1930 – along with their millions of descendants – achieved and contributed so much that there is much to celebrate.

That’s impressive considering the Irish managed five goals against them. They were poor, immigrants, Catholic, uneducated and, of course, Irish. They were harassed, beaten, deprived of employment and excluded from certain neighborhoods. Signs in Boston storefronts read: “Help Wanted. No Irish need apply.

The Irish were also abused by the police in the mid-1800s, rounded up in so-called “paddy wagons”. There was no Irish Lives Matter. Yet the Irish worked hard and persevered. As a friend put it, they “bumped into each other”.

Nor did they bother to accommodate the prejudices of those who despised them. Latinos, take note. They had bigger things to worry about – like a diaspora that spread Irish children all over the world.

My Irish Friends pay homage – in a classic anthem that dates back to 1913 – to a young man who heard “the pipes are calling” and left Ireland. Danny Boy is expected to come home ‘when summer is in the meadow’ or ‘when the valley is silent and white with snow’ and ‘all the flowers are dying’, only to find his loved ones have died . See the eternal sadness of Ireland.

Today there is more sadness and another diaspora — Ukrainians. The United Nations estimates that in the past three weeks alone, more than 2.8 million Ukrainian refugees have left their homes and flocked to Poland and other countries. Many arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, their children and their pets.

God bless Poland. The Eastern European country is giving the world a master class in welcoming the stranger. The Poles did not build a wall, complain about an “invasion”, send the refugees back across the border or make them “stay in Slovakia”. Instead, Polish volunteers provided coffee, blankets, soup, toiletries, clothing and more. Some Poles have even welcomed Ukrainians into their homes.

When asked by American reporters why they were so nice to their visitors, one Polish Good Samaritan after another recalled the horrors of World War II. These are people who know firsthand what it is like to be attacked by a bully and driven from your home. They had to do justice to these Ukrainian refugees, they said. Otherwise, how could they honor their parents and grandparents?

As descendants of immigrants and refugees, Americans – including Irish Americans – carry the same debt. So on this St. Patrick’s Day, as we sing a few bars of “Danny Boy” and raise a wee bit of whiskey to honor the original “bad men” who enriched a nation that was blessed with them , let’s remember how lucky we all are.

Again, America, the pipes are calling. We must respond – and be better humans. Like the wonderful people of Poland.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is [email protected] His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through all podcast apps.

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