100,000 Welcomes

at 11:45 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. For Richard Swerdlow and friends it’s time to celebrate everything Irish, including the immigrant story in America.

I'm getting out my green necktie, which I wear one day a year, St. Patrick's Day.

In theory, I shouldn't be wearing it. I have never even been to Ireland, and my grandparents, all four, were immigrants from Eastern Europe. But on St. Patrick’s Day, I’m Irish, at least in spirit.

And I'm not the only honorary Irish person on St. Patrick’s Day. Last year, my friend Lan, from China, had on a green dress and Marcos, from Cuba, was sporting an emerald sweater. Look around on March 17th - almost everybody is wearin' o' the green.

Of course, Irish culture is much more than green top hats, shamrocks, green beer and leprechauns. But I love how this one day a year, no matter where we’re from, we're all a wee bit Irish.


But more than four-leaf clovers, I also love how St.Patrick's Day celebrates immigrant success. In our current anti-immigrant era, Irish immigration to America is an inspiring example of refugees fleeing their homeland to start over. Much like today's refugees, early Irish immigrants experienced discrimination, worked at the lowest-wage jobs and relied on family and faith. And look how much they’ve contributed to their adopted nation - from Irish-American John F. Kennedy, to first female supreme court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, to local Irish immigrant John Daly, whose 1868 dairy farm eventually became - yes - Daly City.

The Irish-American story is a great lesson for these times: Immigrants bring energy, talent and a determination to succeed. But no matter where they come from, most immigrants to our country give much more than they take. Nearly all American families began as children of immigrants - yours, mine, and ours.

This St. Patrick’s Day, the hostility towards immigrants has me thinking of one of the most beautiful Irish expressions - “Cead Mille fialte” - “a hundred thousand welcomes.”

So, top of the morning to you - and in this fractured political climate, maybe we all should remember the words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met.”

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.