Monday, March 17, 2008

For Eddie on St Patrick's Day

Today will mark the fourth St Patrick's day to pass since I first started writing about immigration reform and migrant rights. And as any blogger who's been doing this for any amount of time can tell you, blog years are like dog years, and over three years in blogtopia can seem like a half a lifetime.

Two years ago, in 2006, this day had brought great promise.

The Kennedy-McCain Bill was making its way through the Senate, and the first wave of the great immigration rallies were but only days away. Millions, including Irish and other immigrants from around the world, would take to the streets and demand meaningful reform.

We all thought change would surely come….yet it hasn't.

I'm not Irish, and don't partake in the revelry that marks the day. It usually passed for me rather uneventfully. But once I started blogging about immigration, in some strange way, it's become a milestone that marks the passage of time.

Somewhere today in the mainstream media, or in the blogosphere, there will be a story about what's become an annual rite of spring that takes place every St Patrick's Day.

At a parade in New York, or Boston, or in the halls of Congress in Washington, some political leader will pose with members of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform , or some other advocacy group, and make promises they have no intention of keeping.

Donning their best green ties, and an eagerness to pander on the day when "everyone's Irish," even the most ardent anti-immigration hawk will promise to "look into the Irish immigration situation." ... but of course they won't.

So to mark this day I have chosen not to write the obligatory St Patrick's Day "Politicians Promise" post … instead I offer a story first published in the Boston Globe this past January.

I apologize in advance to the gods of fair use, but Eddie Treacy's story is too compelling, and Kevin Cullen's writing too beautiful to chop it up and place it in those little blockquote boxes … so I present it in its entirety:

A Toast to an Irishman

Eddie Treacy lived in the shadows and died in his bed, the covers pulled up, his lungs full of fluid.

He was 33 years old, and there is no other way to say this: He died too young.

He came to Dorchester eight years ago from Athenry, in County Galway, part of what could be the last great wave of the young Irish to come here.

Boston is still Irish enough for a guy like Eddie Treacy to fit in. There's always enough work, and there are Gaelic games in Canton on the weekends and fresh brown bread every day at Greenhills Bakery in Adams Village.

Eddie was a master carpenter and made a decent living. For a young man, he was old school, using a simple tool called a square.

Eddie only needed one measurement for a job. Others would punch away at calculators, but Eddie would do the calculations in his head, and hand off the wood, cut precisely, like a diamond.

After a day's work, Eddie would make his way to the Eire Pub for a few jars. If the stool next to his great pal, Muldoon, was open, he would take it.

"How's Mul?" Eddie would ask.

"How's Eddie?" Muldoon would ask back.

And then they would silently watch the news on the TV set over the head of Martin Nicholson, the barman. With Eddie, there was no need for long yarns or running commentary.

Eddie was a rare Irishman, in that he was a great listener, not a great talker. If he agreed with you, he would nod, almost imperceptibly. If he thought you were full of it, he would raise an eyebrow, a silent indictment.

Like other illegal immigrants, he wanted to legalize his residency. He would have paid anything, done anything. But there was no way.

He thought about going home, as his brother Michael did, not long after Eddie first came here.

But Eddie liked it here, so he stayed on, kept his head down.

He didn't ask for much. Once, he told Muldoon he would be happy if he died in his own bed and they played "The Fields of Athenry" at his funeral. They both laughed, because young men don't think they will ever die.

Eddie died in his own bed. We will never know if it was stubborn pride or a fear of being deported that kept him from going to a hospital to treat the pneumonia that killed him. Maybe he just didn't realize how sick he was.

Gerry Treacy hadn't seen his brother in eight years, and when he finally did, Eddie was lying in a casket inside the Keaney Funeral Home on Dot Ave.

"He was a quiet lad," Gerry Treacy was saying, as he and Michael prepared to bring their brother home. "He liked the simple pleasures."

Brendan McCann, a senior at BC High, stood near the altar and played "The Fields of Athenry" on his fiddle as they wheeled Eddie Treacy's casket down the aisle of St. Brendan's Church.

All around the church, there were images of another carpenter who died at 33, nearly 2,000 years ago, another carpenter who some people dismissed as a criminal.

After Mass, about 200 people posed on the front steps of the church for a photo to send back to Eddie's mother, Ann, so she would know that Eddie mattered here. Many of the young men standing there had given up a day's wages to pay their respects.

Then everybody went to Sonny's, the pub that sponsored the Father Tom Burke hurling teams Eddie played for and managed.

Muldoon raised a glass to his friend.

"We'll never see the likes of him again," he said.

On Monday night, as President Bush told the nation that we need to find "a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally," Eddie Treacy's body was in the cargo hold of Aer Lingus Flight 132, somewhere over the Atlantic, heading home.

Eddie Treacy was buried today, where he wanted to be, in the fields of Athenry.

Boston Globe, Jan 31, 2008

So to Patrick Joseph Buchanan, William James O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and all the others whose tribal worldviews and reptilian brains have so poisoned this debate with the worst kind of bigotry and divisiveness - I wish you a happy St Patrick's Day.

But, I leave you with this thought as you revel in your immigrant past and enjoy your native foods and rituals:

Immigrants really do come in all colors of the rainbow from the deepest black to the whitest white. And whether it's Eddie Treacy shipped back in a box in the cargo hold of an Aer Lingus flight, or Edith Rodreguez losing her infant son to the desert heat, or Antonio Torres Jimenez perishing as he tried to return to his family, or Jesus Abran Buenrostro frantically trying to lead rescuers to his already dead mother in the Arizona desert …. all their blood is on your hands ... all their suffering should be on your conscience.

So have a happy St Patrick's Day, and as you do, just remember that each and every day, another immigrant dies in the shadows because of you.

1 comment:

RonF said...

We will never know if it was stubborn pride or a fear of being deported that kept him from going to a hospital to treat the pneumonia that killed him. Maybe he just didn't realize how sick he was.

So we in fact have no idea if the people and policies you mention had anything to do with this. Interesting that you post a story and then make assertions that directly contradict it. Never let the facts stand in the way of the narrative, eh?

Also interesting that apparently you figure this young man bears no responsibility for his own situation. Should he have had access to the health care he needed to save his life? Yes. Did he not, in fact, have it? This story explicitly says that you don't know.