Congressman Joe Crowley
By Congressman Joe Crowley
As the son and grandson of Irish immigrants growing up in Woodside, Queens, my heritage is a big part of what made me who I am today.
Between playing Irish folk songs and hearing stories of Irish heroes, I learned stories of my family’s upbringing in Ireland and their journey across the Atlantic. Between marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades and eating Irish recipes, I heard about the challenges of learning a new language, finding a good job, and assimilating to a new culture.
Like those who came before and after them, settling in as new immigrants in a new land was not without difficulty.
But I also grew to appreciate the reason that made my grandparents give up everything they knew, everything that was familiar to them, to come to America.
And that was a dream of a better life.
While as a young boy I couldn’t quite appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears that went into achieving this dream, I did know that life wasn’t particularly easy for my family. But what we lacked in wealth, we made up for in community.
I was raised surrounded by family and neighbors that shared a common bond of hard work, persistence, and yes, roots in Ireland.
It wasn’t unusual for someone to ask you what county you were from, and not be referring to one of the New York City boroughs. That’s the thing about being Irish American in New York: you’re never alone, or far from home.
I also knew that like many immigrant groups, the Irish had to bear the burden of hate and intolerance.
The truth is, it wasn’t that long ago when it was the Irish who were demonized and disparaged, much like the immigrants and refugees of today.
Perhaps that is why today’s fight for fair and humane immigration policies is so very personal for me and many other Irish Americans.
While many of us are generations removed from the days of “Irish need not apply,” this struggle is an integral part of our history.
In my family it was often shared with us kids – not for the purpose of holding a grudge, but for the hard lessons of understanding what they endured and vowing to do better to future generations.
I was always taught to stand up for those who are shunned or looked down upon, to be the voice to someone who doesn’t have one, and to look toward others with compassion and understanding.
As a kid, these lessons applied to the playground and the locker room. As an adult, these lessons shaped how I raise my own children and how I fight for working families in Congress.
Of course, these lessons are not unique to Irish-American families, just as my family’s journey to America is not unlike the stories you hear every day across the country. That’s what truly makes America great. Our paths might be different, but our dream of a better future is the same.
And when I look to that future, I often look to Ireland and its history for inspiration.
As a student, I studied the Great Hunger and the perseverance of a people, the fight for Irish independence led by patriots like Robert Emmet, and the struggle for civil rights in the north of Ireland.
Later, as a legislator in the New York State Assembly and in Congress, I pursued these values in my work to bridge the divide and promote peace in the North.
Throughout these efforts, I saw that progress, no matter how slow, is always possible. And I saw that what brings us together is much more powerful than the forces who try to tear us apart.
It is those lessons of Ireland and the Irish that have so deeply influenced me throughout my life.
Yes, as Irish Americans we embrace the Irish culture of music, food, and stories, and we all share a deep appreciation and a love for the land our families called home.
But more than that, my Irish heritage has taught me the values of fairness, decency, and justice – values that have made me a better son, father, husband, and congressman.
That’s why I am so proud to be an Irish American.
Congressman Crowley represents New York’s 14th congressional district and is the fourth ranked Democrat in the House of Representatives. He is the Irish Echo’s Irish American of the Year for 2018 and is being honored Friday evening at the reception concluding the 2018 New York/New Belfast conference in Manhattan.