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The Irish

Nicole Feder and Chiene Joy Jones

Introduction

     As noted in the directions of this project, the purpose of this assignment was to investigate the use of languages other than English (LOTE) in immigrant communities. Ready to dive into this project and meet some people of another culture, we began our adventure in Woodside, Queens, one of the largest Irish communities in New York. The last census in 1995 put the population of the neighborhood at 48,865, with 22,119 native born, and 26,746 foreign born, including the other local ethnic immigrants. We discovered, however, that the official language of Ireland is English, making this assignment somewhat difficult to tackle. Although Gaelic is commonly associated with the Irish, very few actually speak it. It is spoken by a small minority of the Irish population, and is, in essence, a dying language. Since the majority of the Irish immigrants in Woodside spoke English, we shifted our focus from LOTEs to the inherent variables within Irish culture itself and the surrounding issues.

Accent Differences

     According to Carolynn, a bartender we interviewed, Ireland is divided into two main factions: Northern Ireland and Ireland. Northern Ireland is made up of six counties under England's governmental jurisdiction, while Ireland is divided into twenty-six different counties known as the Republic. Despite the fact that each county recognizes English as their official native language, accents as in the United States, tend to vary from place to place. A Southerner, for instance, can be distinguished from other Americans due to their "Southern drawl". A New Yorker can be discerned just as a person from Boston is discerned by their pronunciation of certain words or phrases (i.e. "coffee," "water," and "park the car"). Carolynn agreed that linguistic distinctions are similar with the Irish, though non-Irish natives would have significantly tougher time discriminating among Northerners, Westerners, and Southerners.

Gaelic Education

     Carolynn also informed us about the usage of Gaelic in Ireland. Gaelic is taught throughout primary and secondary schools throughout the homeland, but is rarely ever used. Only small minorities in parts of Southern and Western Ireland speak it. In Woodside, however, Gaelic has been completely forgotten. After asking several people, we were unable to find even one person who knew Gaelic. They informed us that it is not taught in public or private schools here in the States.

Education

     In Woodside, Irish children are being assimilated into American schools. Whether they are enrolled in a private Catholic school or the local public school, the Irish children learn what every other student is learning in Woodside, NY. They are guaranteed equal access to public education but they are not taught Gaelic. Education in New York City is mandatory for children ages six to seventeen. And despite many changes to U.S. immigration laws, public education is available to all children regardless of their immigration status. As a result, the large Irish community, along with the many neighboring ethnic communities, attends Woodside public schools.

Accommodations of other Nationalities

     Woodside, being primarily an Irish-American community, accommodates several other cultures. With Jackson Heights (a large Latin and Asian community) right next door, a huge outside influence is placed on Woodside to accommodate the large LOTE speakers. Many of the businesses assist LOTE by selling newspapers, having translators, and publishing information in those languages. Local newsstands and convenience stores carry the "Irish Voice", "Irish Echo", "Irish Independent", and "The Irish Emigrant", as well as the "Korea Times" (in Korean), "Hoy and El Diario" (in Spanish), "Al Hayat" (in Arabic, Muslim newspaper), and "The World Journal" (Chinese newspaper). The Latino and Asian communities in essence co-exist with the Irish immigrants. As we walked down the street we noticed a Korean market that sold only Korean products and all the signs were in Korean. An Indian owned local deli sold many different Irish products to accommodate the huge Irish population. The Emerald Isle Immigration Center, one of the main help resources for Irish immigrants, publishes information in both English and Spanish because of the large Latino population nearby.

Local Stores and Restaurants

     The Irish presence in Woodside is immediately obvious with the estimated 40 Irish bars and the many Irish eateries. As Chiene and I were walking we noticed a little bakery and decided to go in. This Irish owned bakery has been in business for about five years and sells many of the ethnic Irish baked goods. It had Irish products like Ambrosia, Devon Custard, Irish soda bread, and many delicious looking cakes. When speaking to the manager of the Irish bakery, she had told us that after work her and her co-workers liked to go drinking at "Copper Face Jacks", a local pub. We found it quite interesting and amusing to hear these words come out of an Irish person's mouth. Her statement concurred our notions of the stereotypical Irishman liking to drink a lot. The Pubs seemed to be a huge aspect of the Irish community life. In "The Irish Emigrant" magazine the editors dedicated a whole directory to Irish Pubs throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Religion

     Some of the oldest landmarks in Woodside are churches. St. Paul's Episcopal was built in 1873, St. Sebastian's Roman Catholic congregation was formed in 1894, The Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians, popularly known as St. Mary's, was established in 1854, and St. Jacobus was founded in 1867. The people of Ireland practice the Celtic Catholic religion, while the people of Northern Ireland are practicing Protestants. Jews of Ireland, on the other hand, are a Fading Community on the Emerald Isle. When the Irish brought religion over to the States, Catholic was obviously dominantly apparent. In Woodside, St. Agnes another local community Catholic Church, had a private school attached to it. There, the students wear green plaid uniforms, and adhere to local Irish traditions.

Governmental Services

     To reiterate on what was said before about the Irish culture, only a small group in Ireland actually speak Gaelic, an Irish language other than English. But because English is the standard language for Ireland, there are no governmental or medical services available in Gaelic. Nevertheless, there are governmental services available to the other immigrants in the Woodside community. Public school registration applications are available in several languages, (i.e. Spanish, Chinese and Korean). Public schools accommodate languages other than English by including multilingual lunch forms, information bulletins, and by having an advisor that speaks their native language. It's the same thing when it comes time to vote in the primaries. Signs that say "Vote Here" are posted in all three of the local languages. While looking in a newsletter at the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, we stumbled upon an ad promoting a white, female running for City Councilwoman. To accommodate the Irish community, the letters in the ad were green, and four leaf clovers were scattered around her picture. This is significant because even though you can't actually communicate to the Irish people in another language (with Gaelic being so rare), you can approach them in another way. In this case, the woman running for city councilwoman used Irish symbols and a color primarily related to Irish traditions.

Medical Services

     Similar to governmental services, there are no medical services specifically catering to the Gaelic speaking Irish community members. However, hospitals do assist the other LOTEs by offering interpreters for the Spanish speaking, the Korean speaking, and the Chinese-speaking immigrants. We called the Woodside Medical Care Center after hours to hear what language the voicemail service was going to be in. To our surprise, it was in both English and Spanish, two of the most commonly used languages in the community and in the United States. The Woodside hospitals don't have the need to assist such a small minority of Gaelic speaking Irish immigrants assimilate into our American culture. It's much easier for the English-speaking immigrants to blend and learn how to fit in with the American experience.

Things We Could Not Find In Woodside

     Surprisingly enough, there were many things that we did not see in the Woodside Irish community. For instance, lessons on learning how to play the bagpipes weren't advertised anywhere. There weren't any flyers or announcements regarding the primary elections for this November. We assumed that with the type of influence the Irish had on politics historically with Tammany Hall, politicians might have used similar strategy in this widely recognized Irish community. We couldn't find any uses of Gaelic within this small community and there were no Irish specific private schools or cultural organizations anywhere.

Conclusion

     Coming off the train in Woodside, we had all kinds of fixed notions of what a typical Irish person would look like and how they would act. While sitting in the subway car Chiene turned to Nicole and said, "I bet he's Irish, lets ask him if he is going to Woodside." We played into those stereotypes of pale skin, reddish hair, light eyes, and drinking all the time. Feeling ridiculous for making such speculations, we decided not to ask and eventually reached our destination. While in Woodside we met several people fitting into various categories of the stereotypes. It wasn't until we walked into an Indian owned Deli that I realized how easy it would be to categorize people. When we asked the owner why he had so many Irish products in his store, he replied, "You should know better than I, you're Irish," referring to Nicole because of Nicole's physical features (blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin), he assumed that she was part of the community too. We laughed, looked at each other, and then told the man that Nicole was actually Jewish-Caucasian-American. Since the majority of the community is English speaking, he was able to easily play into the stereotypes too. However, after observing the community and asking the right questions, Chiene and I were able to come away understanding how an immigrant community must feel in such a huge dominant American culture.

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