When I think of the 4th of July, I think not of fireworks in America, but those that kissed the sky over Slane Castle in County Meath after a concert.
My first concert at Slane was in 1982 for what was touted as The Rolling Stones farewell tour. Seriously. Warming up for them were the J. Geils Band, The Chieftains, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Two years later, I was there again, to see UB40, Santana, and Bob Dylan. But on June 1, 1985, America came to Ireland when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made their Irish debut. I knew it would be special. I’d spent the previous summer in America when the Born in the USA tour was in full swing and was lucky enough to be in New York at the same time as Springsteen. I saw him first at Saratoga Springs and again in September, when a trip to Niagara Falls with my American cousin also included a Springsteen show in Buffalo. So I bought my little brother a ticket, and along with three of my college friends, we made the trek to Slane Castle.
Imagine for a moment, close to 100,000 of us making a pilgrimage through the sleepy – and disapproving - village of Slane to see The Boss. Between assurances of increased security and a promise – as yet unfulfilled – that this would be the last rock concert to disturb them, the residents had been placated. Even the weather cooperated with the kind of sun-drenched day we Irish pray for.
Everybody was young, even the old farmers who let us park on their fields, and when the band burst on stage with Born in the USA, everybody was Irish, even Bruce. When he turned his baseball cap backwards and bragged, “I had a grandmother from here,” the crowd went wild.
Although we basked in his pride, the reality was that our weather was rarely that sunny, and many of us would be forced out of Ireland as economic immigrants, collectively the “brain drain” of the 1980s. But on that glorious day, in spite of the economic and political truths of Ireland, and the ever-diminishing possibilities before us, a defiant Springsteen held us aloft, and we believed in America.
All these years later, I’ve lost count of the Springsteen concerts I’ve attended, but I’ve always counted on him to stand up for people like me and for immigrants who are striving for America. I remember the summer of 2013, waiting to see what would happen to the Immigration Bill and a last-minute amendment that would increase border controls that included unmanned drones.
And then today I read in the Arizona Republic that our State Superintendent of Instruction, John Huppenthal, the person charged with overseeing the education of our children, many of whom – like mine - are the children of immigrants, had this to say in 2010 before he was elected:
"We all need to stomp out balkanization. No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv stations, no spanish newspapers. This is America, speak English."
He goes on to say that Mexican food is OK, as long as the menus are "mostly in English."
Mind you, he said it anonymously, behind the username Falcon9.
I think it’s time for a new Boss, one who might reflect on what JFK said about America being the kind of country that can create an immigration policy that is generous, fair, and flexible, one that would allow us to “turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.”
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here who need not only this policy, but recognition of their humanity and their undaunted spirit, honored by Bruce Springsteen when he received the Ellis Island Family Heritage Award in 2010:
“I am proud to be here today as another hopeful wanderer, a son of Italy, of Ireland and of Holland and to wish God’s grace, safe passage and good fortune to those who are crossing our borders today and to give thanks to those who have come before whose journey, courage and sacrifice made me an American.”
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