Learning from Multicultural Philadelphia
Recent remarks posted to an online news forum:
- “We cannot afford any more illegal immigrants, especially illegal liars.”
- “Most welfare fraudsters are illegal immigrants.”
- “We cannot afford to pay for non-nationals, and we do not want this many here, anyway.”
And finally, lest you assume these comments were written by an angry Arizonan about illegal entry into the United States:
- “Is it unreasonable for us to expect that Ireland be governed for the Irish first? When will the Irish government protect their own native population?”
At a time when many in the United States rail against the undocumented, the Irish are struggling with their own immigration problems. A survey a few years ago suggested that foreign nationals make up 10 percent of the Irish workforce. Those numbers probably have dropped since the Irish economy went into the tank, but all the same, Ireland is still learning to cope with the many non-Irish who are suddenly in their midst.
“Right now the Irish feel like they’re coming over and taking their jobs,” says Center City attorney and County Wexford native Laurence Banville, chair of Irish Network-Philadelphia. “In the rural areas there is culture clash. You have an older generation not happy to see a Polish shop setting up in the middle of town, or a section of a city becoming a Chinatown. It’s something different and they don’t like it.”
Such suspicion and animosity gives rise to ethnic tensions—something about which we Philadelphians know all too well, as witness violence against Chinese students at South Philadelphia High School. It’s that kind of experience that informs a special program this afternoon at 2 in Center City sponsored by IN-Philadelphia and the Brehon Society, to be attended by the 2010 Irish participants in the Washington Ireland Program (WIP).
The program is called, “What Lessons Can An Increasingly Multicultural Ireland Learn From Philadelphia’s Conflict Resolution Strategies.” It’s to be held at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, 7th Floor Education Center, 1801 Market Street, in Philadelphia.
Over 70 people have already registered to attend the event, featuring a panel discussion by Pamela P. Dembe, president judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, City Council member Jack Kelly, and Amy S. Cox, Ph.D., adjunct professor, Arcadia University International Peace and Conflict Resolution. (Other local experts were expected to join the panel.)
The main purpose of the Washington Ireland Program is to support continuing peace and reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland and Ireland by training future leaders, says Banville. There are 30 Protestant and Catholic university students in the Class of 2010, currently residing in Washington, D.C. Banville has no doubt that Philadelphia has a lot to offer them.
“These individuals who will be going back to Ireland will bring back the conflict resolution strategies that are implemented here in Philadelphia,” he says. “Ireland is behind Philadelphia in terms of how multicultural this place is… and how multicultural Ireland will be. It’s something they have to learn pretty fast. This program will be a benefit to Ireland directly.”