Vice President Joe Biden challenged Irish Americans to get behind immigration reform this year during a rousing speech in New York on Thursday.
Biden was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame at the annual event hosted by IrishCentral’s sister publication Irish America magazine.
During his speech the Vice President stressed that we have to find a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, making reference to the 50,000 undocumented Irish.
During his 30-minute speech, the Irish American made several references to his Irish ancestors, the Blewitts from County Mayo and the Finnegans from County Louth, who left Ireland in the 1830s and 1850s.
On life lessons from his mother:
“My Mom used to have an expression, she’d say ‘As long as you’re alive, you have an obligation to strive and you’re not dead until you’ve seen the eyes of God’ and the truth of the matter is I think that’s the Irish of it.”
On Irish revolutionary leaders:
“My Grandfather used to always talk about Irish history and he said ‘Joey when you grow up, if you have a choice of being DeValera or Collins, be DeValera’ and my Grandmother would say: ‘No Joey be Collins!’”
On his Irish American pride:
“All the stories, all the pride, all that of which created this sense of unity among Irish Americans.
“It’s interesting when you think about it, why are we as proud of as are?
“Why would my mother, coming from very modest means, say things to me like, ‘Joey remember, you’re a Biden. You’re every man’s equal, no other man is above you.’ It was like she was talking about some dynasty. It was real, it was palpable. You could taste it, you could feel it. The sense of pride that we had, it was so strong.
“There’s something about us Irish, about how we view ourselves and how we were viewed by others.
“We have a combination of spirituality and yet we are doubters, we are compassionate, but we are demanding.
On not bowing down to anyone in life:
“I remember I was meeting the Queen of England when I was a young Senator and as I was heading to the airport and before I left the house I got a call from my Mother; ‘Joey be polite but do not kiss her ring.’ “
“I got the great honor of introducing my Mom to Pope John Paul, my mother said ‘Joey don’t kiss his ring.’ There was this thing, this thing about never bending. As my Dad would say, it’s all about dignity.
On the American dream:
“As the great Irish poet Bono said… he said ‘America is not just a country, it’s an idea’. It’s an idea that has been embraced by the Irish for the last two centuries.
“I have travelled over 700,00- miles as vice president and it never ceases to amaze me, when others talk about us abroad, what is buried in the translation, as that America is about possibilities. It’s all about possibilities.”
On the prejudice against the Irish:
“Most people think the KKK started because of African Americans, it was an anti immigration movement as well, there were too many of us Catholics coming.
“Xenophobia is not unique to the 19th and 20th centuries. We Irish have faced it and most of you understand it and most you yourselves have felt it but all of you have heard it.
“Our ancestors were victims of stereotypical characteristics of the Irish of their time.
“We were Catholics with all those kids, we breed like rabbits, we were drunkard. In 1892 the New York Times wrote of our ancestors as the following. “It is next to impossible to penetrate this mass of protected secluded humanity with modern ideas. Where they halt, they stay and where they stay they multiple and cover the earth.”
“As my grandfather Finnegans would say, that editor is rolling over in his grave and I am sitting here with the most popular columnist with the New York Times Maureen Dowd.”
On his love of Irish poetry:
“My friends in Congress always kid me, because I am always quoting Irish poets.
“I used to stutter so badly and my uncle, who was a well educated man and lived with us as a bachelor had two volumes of Yeats on the bureau.
“At night in the bedroom, my uncle and I would put on this little light and stand in front of the mirror and read Yeats, because we have to learn not to contort my face and I would practice and practice not to contort my face, but to breath and to get it down.”
On his favorite contemporary poet Seamus Heaney:
“In his poem The Cure at Troy he says:
‘History says, Don't hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.’
“There are over 11 million people out there, good people, who are waiting for hope and history to rhyme. I think we above all other people., who felt that brunt, that prejudice, the disregard for talent, the marginalization of our religion, the charizcation of our families. I think we have both the capacity and the obligation, not just to take those 50,000 Irish people out of the shadows but everyone out of the shadows.”
Here's the full video of Joe Biden's speech:
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