Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy San Patricio's Day!

Here's some fun and interesting information about Saint Patrick's Day, Saint Patrick himself, the Irish, and... huh? Italians?! What the hell -- why would I bring up Italians on such a well-established holiday of Irish Pride, you ask? Well, despite Ireland and modern-day Italy being on complete opposite sides of Europe and being geographically isolated from eachother, they have quite a bit of interesting history with eachother.

First, let's get this out of the way. Saint Patrick was actually Italian. Heresy, I know, but it's true. Ole Saint Patrick was born to Calpurnius (a Roman diplomat) and Conchessa, who lived on a British estate within the then-Roman Empire. Of course, you have the history of him being taken prisoner by pagan Irish pirates when he was 16, made into a slave where he lived for six years, escaped, and returned to his family. He later returned as a cleric and 'drove the snakes out of Ireland', which really means that he converted the people from paganism to Christianity. 'Snakes' are referenced because the druidic priests had tattoos of snakes on their forearms.

Why does any of this matter? Why bring it up? Well, because it's interesting and I find it funny regarding the whole 'Irish pride' thing mixed with Saint Patrick, being that he was actually Italian and not Irish. But it doesn't end, there. There is actually a lot of interesting recent history between the Irish and the Italians. There's basically like this quasi-joke that goes on between Irish and Italian circles of a kind of 'cold war' between them, that they 'can never get along', or are 'so much alike and yet so different and so hate eachother for it', et cetera.

You won't hear about any of this amongst European Irish or European Italians, though. It'll be the first they hear about it if you mention it or try to joke about it. But it's not them I'm talking about. This is in America. New England, specifically. Well, mostly the Boston area, actually. It's really all but faded for all practical purposes, to the point of it being a passing joke that Irish and Italians these days laugh about and get along great, but we love to make fun of eachother over it. So why is this? Well, it has little to do with Saint Patrick's Day, I'll tell you that.

I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the history of the Irish and Italian immigrants going back about a hundred years. About a hundred years ago, right before Italians really started migrating in, the Irish had already migrated over a lot and were a lot more accepted than they were when they first came here. They finally integrated more after they stopped trying to hopelessly rely on racist local officials and police to protect them and look out for their interests, and so started with their own Irish mobs to do it for them. Eventually, it kind of worked and people mostly stopped causing as many issues with them, and they started getting more involved in local government, and especially becoming the police force in the area. 

When Italians first started coming here, they were treated worse than almost anyone else, including blacks, in a lot of ways -- racially, in the perception of their 'lower class' status, weren't trusted, etc -- like Mexican immigrants are today, unfortunately, but even worse. They were treated poorly even in more traditionally 'liberal' places, like here in Massachusetts. After some time, Italians started banding together more and looking out for eachother, and that's when you had the rise of the Italian mafia families from the 20s and decades since and the criminal enterprises that arose out of that. Naturally, this caused even more tension with now heavily Irish-dominated police and local officials, which were basically owned by the local Irish mafia families in the first place. Corruption was rampant. The Italian and Irish mob families were fighting constantly and agreed to a meeting -- but the Italians decided, instead, to show up with the intent of outright slaughtering the heads of the local Irish mobs in one fell swoop, leading to a massive boost in power to the Italians. From there on enters the era we all know about in movies and television regarding the Italian mafia.

To top it all off, the tensions and 'war' between the Italians who ran the 'North End' of Boston and the 'Winter Hill Gang' (Whitey Bulger) in 'Southie' (South Boston) just further adds to the whole Irish / Italian 'thing'.

It's all a very interesting part of Greater Boston history. As we all know, there's lots of great books, movies, and television on all of this. 

Now, let's bring on the obligatory nitpicking randos!

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