When Catholics, Irish (or any other immigrant group) were ‘real Americans’ greatest fear

May 18, 2011

Bobz Book Reviews

Along with the oppressed immigrant angle, I really liked the history Peter Quinn’s captured of the anti-Catholicism the Irish faced in “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America.”
Here’s a line to remember from this work of non-fiction: “If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”
It’s a quote from the author’s father, who was a member of Congress. A Republican heard Quinn’s Democrat father quote Shakespeare and remarked that he was “unusually cultured for an Irishman.”

And then there was the description of a Quinn’s grandfather by an aunt: “He’ll be the last man out of Purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

The connection I made is that the immigrant experience of the Irish translates pretty well for other ethnic groups who came to this country. It’s American history at gut level.

I was impressed with the quality of research Quinn did. His connecting historical fact with fictional writing on those facts is an interesting tool. It reinforced for me the concept that in some ways fiction can tell history better than non-fiction.

As an active Catholic — one who works for a Catholic diocesan newspaper — and as a “hypenated-American” although non-Irish — I connected with Quinn’s understanding of the cultural value of Catholicism.

I’ll need to think a bit more about this, but my first thought is that he crossed the line when he included his opinions about a celibate clergy, for example. Not that that opinion shouldn’t have been expressed — I’m not saying that at all — but it seemed as though that subject matter belonged in a whole other book, not one about the Irish-American immigrant experience.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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