Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Teacher

            “Mrs. Fitzgerald doesn’t let her class celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.” I was in awe of the fifth grade girl talking to me about her teacher.
            “But why?” I asked. I understood only that for some reason everybody must wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and 4th of July, I understood it to be an American thing. In India we had celebrated days associated with the various religions that originated in the nation. I didn’t remember any festival or holiday having dress codes. People wear costumes on Halloween and everything seems to be orange and black. Red and pink cover walls and people alike on Valentine’s Day. Pastel colors for Easter. Red, white, and blue for United States’ Independence Day. And green on St. Patrick’s Day.
            The fifth grader’s answer was simple, “Because she’s Irish.”
            As a third grader with limited English proficiency and budding knowledge of the world, I asked, “What’s Irish?”
            “Like you’re Indian. She comes from Ireland, so she’s Irish. I’m Irish too.” With that, she was gone. And I thought. Ireland must be like India, a place people leave and move here. Indians travelled to England, France, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Spain. I knew those were countries that offered more money and better jobs. We had relatives and family acquaintances that had moved there. Though Indians moved to all these countries, nobody outside of India celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights or Holi, the season for color. I mused for days. St. Patrick’s Day was coming and I had to decide whether I should wear green and why.
            I began to notice more people who looked Irish: everybody who had dirty blonde hair and fair skin. I realized that many Americans were either British—we were learning about the Colonies in Social Studies—or Irish. Because there were more British immigrants, their holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween all travelled with them and became American celebration days. There were fewer Irish so they got one holiday: St. Patrick’s Day.
            I felt bad for the Irish. Their smaller number meant they had claim to one day a year. I realized how there were only one other Indian kid in my school and scattered Indian communities throughout the area that we shopped and lived in. I wanted an Indian holiday to be celebrated just like St. Patrick’s Day, so I decided to wear green. I was wearing green to support the minorities because I knew somewhere inside me that if we help someone, God will send others to help us as well.
            I wore green again in fourth grade. More Indian kids came to our school and I could see my idea becoming a possible reality.
In fifth grade, I had Mrs. Fitzgerald as my teacher. She wore ankle-length dresses in floral prints, with long, thin ties at her lower back and rounded necklines; I imagined that this was how the Irish women dress.  She said that was her culture—she would not wear short dresses or revealing clothing.
Mrs. Fitzgerald called the class to attention before St. Patrick’s Day, “I’m Irish and for me St. Patrick’s Day is not about leprechauns, rainbows, and pots of gold. St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of Ireland’s patron saint and should be observed respectfully.” The class knew not to pinch those not wearing green and to not advertise the leprechauns when creating holiday craft projects. Though other teachers in the future would tell us that they could trace their roots to Ireland, they were all American. Mrs. Fitzgerald was Irish.