Wednesday, November 09, 2016

America's cultural blend: Scotch-Irishness as a broader influence

Gianno Caldwell

So we wake up today and the world looks different. Everyone's talking about Trump.

I sat up last night to watch the coverage, reflecting on our 3 week trip to the USA back in the summer. One of the things that struck me then - especially in Washington DC - was the enormous ethnic diversity. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Indian Asians and Chinese Asians all there in pretty much equal proportions, visiting the great heritage sites of the nation such as the White House, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Museums and so on. Yet all very much American. It was also the case at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia for the 4th July fireworks celebrations (which included the best flute band parade I have ever seen - in period costume carrying flaming torches).

Last night's coverage on Sky showed that again. The pic above shows a commentator who is African-American, with an Italian first name and a Scottish/Scotch-Irish surname. All of these cultural influences coming together.

I think that we in Northern Ireland make a mistake when we look back to an America of yesteryear, to say around 100 years ago when the Scotch-Irish Society was in its heyday, and Ulster had provided a long list of Presidents. Scotch-Irishness was probably more 'distinct' back then, more easily identified, for all sorts of social reasons.

Today, over a century on, multiple waves of immigration have added Italians, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics to name but three, social barriers have broken down - and so Scotch-Irishness, whilst probably more 'diluted', is also more widespread as an influence. And not just in terms of surnames or ethnicity or geographical settlement areas, but in terms of general core values, attitudes, and so on.

We need to widen our view - and open up to this far broader story of the Scotch-Irish influence in the present and future, and so not rely solely on narrow somewhat ethno-centric impressions of how the past once was. When we're narrow we leave too many people out. When we're broad we tell our true story.

There are millions and millions and millions of people like Gianno. They have many influences and ancestries, but Scotch-Irishness is an important part of their mix.

So not just Appalachia, not just the South, not just rural, not just Presbyterian, not just bluegrass, not just religious, not just by surname, not just 1700s, not just caucasian. Think bigger.