Getting sent to report on a story in Washington DC is an exciting job for any journalist, but as a young recruit to the industry the best word to describe it is exhilarating.
While I class myself as a well-seasoned traveler to America, I had never been to Washington, DC. It was on the list, but always seemed to be bumped off for more frivolous trips, such as to Las Vegas, which seems to entice 20-something-year-olds more than a city steeped in American history.
It's probably the allure of the bright lights and casinos that seemed more attractive than the American capital.
As I got off the subway in DC I was greeted by the soft composure of a relaxed city, a noted change from what I have experienced in my life over the past few months with the hustle and bustle of the New York life.
There was a great sense of fresh air and, for me, a fresh perspective. I spent a day as the typical Irish tourist – posing shamelessly in an array of 'selfies' outside the White House. I mean it’s the White House, a right of passage to take a picture outside a railing post.
What struck me, as I posed for my mugshot, was that I would never be posing outside the grounds of Aras an Uachtarain, the President’s residence in Ireland in a million years, but here I was in the American capital acting like every other tourist that walked past President Obama’s humble abode.
As I reported for duty early on Wednesday morning for the ‘Irish Lobby Day’ for immigration reform, I asked the hotel desk where the Irish breakfast was being hosted. With a grin he replied "can you not hear them back there."
So I followed the sounds of the Irish American laughter that was wafting out from the typical Irish breakfast. As I walked in I was greeted by an Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) rep who told me to grab a plate and make myself at home.
There was no missing the distinct box of ‘Barry’s Irish tea’ resting on one delegates' table. An essential cup of tea is always needed before any great battle.
Ireland's national broadcaster, RTE, was in attendance for the ILIR breakfast briefing. The new Washington Correspondent Caitriona Perry made her way around to compile her TV package for the evening news in Ireland.
I was to become an honoree campaigner for the day as I set off towards Capitol Hill with the Irish army of Immigration reform delegates. It was wonderful to see a whole host of different representatives, and indeed different generations, come out to support a cause that is at the backbone of the Irish American identity.
As one of the youngest members to the delegation and probably the most recent immigrant within the group, it was fascinating to hear tales of the past rallies and the stories connected to how this community had ended up together.
I paired off with New York delegate Deirdre Foy and Seattle delegate Rosemary Fitzsimmons as we began five hours of effort to make a difference for the 50,000 undocumented Irish.
I was fascinated by the assumptions that a lot of Americans seem to think that Irish Americans have dual citizenship. Nothing is further from the truth. The only way to live in America is to have a university degree and get sponsored through a company, marriage or a diversity visa as Deirdre explained to me.
As we strolled through the offices of Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers in our quest to ask the questions as to ‘Why No Irish Need Apply’ I was struck with the openness of the American political system.
Greeted by what mostly were probably interns on the reception desks, the power of being Irish and asking questions opens doors and people are willing to listen. A stark contrast to the Irish political battle field where mostly you would be told to get out if you didn’t have an appointment by a middle-aged assistant.
Walking through the Senate buildings there was a great sense of what it means to be Irish as people were asking ‘What does it say on your shirt?’ It was liberating to see people actually ask those questions.
Capitol Hill workers were probably wondering what had descended upon their working day – an array of Irish figures in t-shirts.
I was taken by the openness of people I had never met before. I was pointed in the right direction of those power figures that I needed to meet, while others simply wished me well for the future and my chosen career as a journalist.
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