“East Coast Ethnic Education”


I was just as surprised by first hearing “Boston Irish” used in a derogatory way as I had been by the foul language. It made no sense to me, nor did slurs against Catholics, or the Portuguese. I quickly learned that national origins seemed to play an outsized role in Cambridge in the 1960’s. And everyone seemed to have an opinion about which national origin was superior.

This whole ongoing identification with Europe was unknown to me growing up in the Pacific Northwest. I knew some people whose forebears had come from China or Japan, a source for immigrants since the early nineteenth century. But many others were just lumped together. If there were any bragging rights, they belonged to people who had been “pioneers” to Oregon, back in the 1850’s. I never heard anyone described as Italian or Irish or Polish, for example.

Now that I have lived back in New England for nearly twenty years, I find that this close identification with Europe continues. St. Patrick’s Day parades and Columbus Day parades teem with people still claiming connections to Europe.  Living here I have heard stereotypes over the years still relating to Europe. Apparently the idea of the European Union hasn’t caught on with many.

While there were and are many other stereotypes and ways of pigeon holing people both in the West and the East, it was the European distinctions that really made an impression on me when I first came East.

21 thoughts on ““East Coast Ethnic Education”

      1. Family lines were important, but all the families I knew had been in the area for many years. It was important to know how you were related to people, but not where they came from in Europe.


  1. True, we don’t have the European influence much in the Northwest and I didn’t hear the names you describe growing up in the Seattle area either. We do have a larger Asian population and I’m sure stereotypes with them too, not to mention the serious discrimination and exclusion acts in our history.


    1. I am sadly all too aware of the discrimination and exclusion acts in Oregon’s history. It is ironic that present Portland citizens seem mainly ignorant of its past and are surprised by the depth of intolerance in much of rural Oregon.

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  2. My second career (from the 1990s to 2010) was in further ahd higher education – FE colleges around East London, including Hackney and Islington, and then University of Greenwich. These were inherently multicultural – the students taught, the lecturers teaching, support staff and senior management teams. Our suburban streets and the children’s school were multi-ethnic; the local church was colourful. It was easy to become complacent about our multicultural credentials.
    Living now in a rural UK community, I see fewer dark faces when I go into our nearest town (although the mix is more familiar when I go shopping in nearby Peterborough.
    Our (white) neighbour’s accent reveals her French origins, and I was horrified at a recent road rage incident (based on nothing more than expecting to be given precedence at a minor drove junction. The irate driver followed my neighbour home and was ranting that she should go back to where she came from. I was shocked that such predjudices still existed. Clearly, I’ve led a sheltered life in London’s suburbia.


  3. This is really interesting – being from the other side of the pond, I was brought up to assume that Americans were obsessed with where they were from (having so much ‘younger’ a history than we Europeans do…), and that in particular they were proud of Irish links – there was a whole load of bad press a few decades ago about American support for the IRA terrorist group.

    I can wholeheartedly relate to Cathy’s comment above – London was always a melting pot of every race you could think of and living there I loved its cosmopolitanism, in a way I don’t think any other British city has – in one meeting one day I was the only person who was white British (there were a few Irish people in the meeting but also plenty of other minorities). Outside London – particularly in the north – there is less of a mix, though I’m always pleasantly surprised just to discover how many different nationalities are represented in Carlisle and the Lake District.


  4. There are lots of cultures that try really hard to retain their culture and language. In South Africa we have nine African tribes. Each of them has their own language, traditions and customs and clothing. They all retain these aspects of their individuality. We also have German, Greek, Jewish, Italian, Chinese, Lebanese, Portuguese and Afrikaans communities. I think it is rather nice.


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