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Attack on Family Damages Irish in NYC
Irish Echo, September 10-16, 2003 (not archived on Irish Echo website)

By Emmaia Gelman, John Francis Mulligan and Teresa Gutierrez

Last month, a Sikh family was brutally assaulted by several men who yelled racist epithets. While the attackers kicked and punched, they yelled obscenities, such as ?Osama bin Laden? and ?go back to your country.?

It happened in Queens, but the attackers? epithets were delivered in Irish accents; they had come out of an Irish bar. Were they newcomers flexing their new American muscles? Were they schooled in US-style racism?

The snowballing anti-immigrant racism of Ireland of the last few years is a strange fit in New York City, where Irish immigrants have suffered discrimination in housing, jobs and opportunity alongside browner immigrants for over 150 years. The attackers were listed as ?white men? ? no doubt about their identity now, but how long is it that the Irish have counted themselves white? How long since the Irish were a race apart from the English, the Germans, the Dutch who owned the streets of New York?

Teresa lives next door to the Sikh family, and to the Irish tenant who, presumably unknowing, brought the attackers home with him. As Teresa and her girlfriend watched television that Sunday night, they heard a commotion outside. Looking out the window of their second floor apartment, they saw their neighbors, the Singhs, being beaten in the street.

?We started to yell out the window, demanding the attackers stop, calling on the neighborhood to help,? Teresa told us, as we stood with her on a streetcorner in Jackson Heights holding candles, at a vigil against anti-immigrant violence. ?We?re middle aged, not in great shape, but we grabbed our baseball bat and ran downstairs. We heard it again as we came down, the heavy Irish accents screaming epithets. By the time we got there, our local pizza deliveryman had arrived and jumped in to stop the attack.? Together they chased the racists off.

What?s the price of accusations like ?terrorist!? or ?traitor!? against whole races of people? Racially-targeted campaigns of guilt once drove a whole people underground for centuries, to live in fear of some charge of conspiracy leveled against them; remember it? The days of internment, not so long behind us, are replayed again now for the Singhs, for the South Asian, Arab and Muslim populations of Woodside, Jackson Heights, Bay Ridge? New York neighborhoods where Irish memories, which once knew 1916 like it was yesterday, now seem shamefully short.

In Queens late at night, Teresa says, as she walks home from the Number 7 train past the Irish bars on Woodside Avenue, she?s never been afraid, even if people are drinking. The sound of Irish immigrants makes her smile.

Because there?s a certain camaraderie among immigrants; our parents played soccer in the fields of New York?s parks, and shared hard work with people from all parts of the world. ?As a Latina,? Teresa said as we marched in the candlelit procession toward Woodside, ?I see my Irish neighbors as fellow immigrants ? as people who would understand discrimination, or oppression. I hear about the Irish fight for independence from the British and I relate to that struggle. It makes a bond between the Irish and Latin Americans, who also dream of liberation.? She is doubly sad that fellow immigrants, Irish neighbors, were the ones beating and yelling racist epithets at the Sikh family next door.

It has always been the work of colonizers to turn one set of slaves against another. In the Caribbean, Dutch and English plantation-holders turned Indian slaves against African ones by offering them a few extra privileges; in Ireland, gombeen men, allowed to make a bit of money while still bound by landlords? laws, were used with great success to keep their poorer neighbors in debt and servitude. In the United States, do the Irish who slide in, without papers, to slave in low-wage jobs and hide from the INS, think they?re free? Or do Irish immigrants become more slaves with a little bit of skin privilege, who turn on slaves without it?

Nothing happens in a vacuum, not even hate. The attackers were enabled by the politics currently emanating from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security; the kind of racist hysteria that fosters anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant frenzy.

The Singhs received bruises, cuts and minor injuries. A fatal tragedy was prevented. The trauma however on the family, especially the children, cannot be measured. And Teresa will never forget it either. We tell her we?re writing about it so the Irish community will know and remember too. But Teresa is concerned about the attackers. ?Then I hope they read the article and remember where they came from,? she says. ?Because they should know. Sikhs and Pakistanis and Mexicans and other immigrants have so much more in common with them than they do differences. It?s important that they know.?

And there was more damage done, not only to the Singhs, but to the place of Irishness in New York. Because when the neighborhood drew together after the attack, on a corner in Jackson Heights, to call for racial unity and join together against oppression, we were missing. No Irish immigrant groups were there to demand the right to live and work in peace in a new place, no Irish labor groups were there to confront exploitation, no Irish republican groups were there to challenge colonial power ? none but a few lone members of the Irish community, on their own steam as Irish lesbians and gay men, Irish republicans, activists trained in an Irish tradition of resistance. So who are we then, if we?re not those things any longer? If we leave ourselves to be represented by the boys who beat the Singhs out of their home, and pass no remark?


IQ's Letter to Irish Organizations -- Immigration Rights

September 28, 2003

On Saturday, October 4th, the Immigrant Workers? Freedom Ride will be converging on Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for a rally, as the climax to a nationwide trek for legalization, immigrant rights, labor and civil rights.

As a human community and an Irish community, it is urgent that we speak out for immigrant human rights and against injustices. It was not long ago that Irish immigrants universally suffered harsh, inhumane and despicable treatment while trying to move toward a better life. And many continuing abuses of immigrants affect the Irish community here. Irish immigrants have it easier here than some immigrants for various reasons, including racial privilege, but our families have certainly faced their share of hardship and abuses. It has been the endurance and activism of Irish immigrants that has allowed for generations of the Irish American community to flourish.

As Irish Queers and as New Yorkers, we invite you to join with us as we unite our voices with immigrants of all stripes, by forming an Irish community contingent at the Immigrant Workers? Freedom Ride. If you are unable to march, we urge you to raise your voice publicly in support of the Freedom Ride and rights for all immigrants ? in the Irish American newspapers and anywhere else you are able. This is an issue that our community cannot afford to ignore.

We will be meeting at the corner of 111th Street and 45th Avenue in Queens, at 9:45am on Saturday, October 4th. Please let us know what your plans are ? whether you will participate on the day, or make a statement of support in another way ? by calling (212) 289-1101.

Thank you,

Sean O?Connor
for Irish Queers

P.S. General information about the Freedom Ride can be found at www.iwfr.org.