On March 16, 2014, at an important traditional local event – the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast – a non-white woman took center-stage among the familiar white faces (of mostly men). The woman was State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian-American with an easy smile and a parrot green suit. As if to convince television viewers what they were seeing was in fact completely real, she jovially requested that they do not adjust their television sets. The singing and dancing woman was a rare first among the slew of Irish-American politicians on stage, and the 700 more in attendance at the Boston Convention Center.
Irish in America
The city of Boston has been the go-to destination for Irish immigrants to the USA since the 1700s. Irish culture, food and heritage have greatly influenced the history of the city and of Massachusetts. The earliest Irish immigrants settled at the north end and along its waterfront. Impoverished and lacking in competitive skills, they struggled to find employment and faced discrimination from the indigenous population. This nativist attitude decreased somewhat during the Civil War, when more than 10,000 Irishmen from Massachusetts bravely served in seven Irish regiments.
Boston has the highest concentration of residents with Irish ancestry (20.4% as of 2013), followed by Middlesex County at 16.9% and Peabody at 15.8%. That’s not all – Irish is also the second-most common ancestory among Americans, just behind German. Not surprisingly, new Irish immigrants to America tend to settle down in places with sizable Irish populations, like Boston.
A more tolerant Boston?
Ms Forry’s presence was indicative of a new Boston, a multi-cultural one whose traditional Irish landscape seems to be making way for different colors and races. It is a big departure from the racial segregation and violence of the 70s when the Racial Imbalance Act imposing desegregation in state public schools caused a furore among Boston’s white population and resulted in a decade long conflict. Present-day Boston has a 53% non-white/minority population. South Boston’s white population, though still dominant, has fallen by a few percentage points in recent years.
The new, multicultural Boston is attracting young professionals. The lonely waterfront has now been replaced by technology firms, modern condos and posh eateries. However, in a stark reminder of things that haven’t yet changed, the city’s gay groups were not allowed to march in the parade if they proclaimed their sexual orientation through signs or banners. Parade organizers, The Allied War Veterans Council, did not budge despite requests from different quarters, including MassEquality, the group representing gay veterans. In the light of this discrimination, mayor Marty Walsh refused to take part in the parade.
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(Image courtesy of Gubgib/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net)