Hello, my name is Amanda Nigon-Crowley and I'm an Irish-American. I am also the new Office & Communications Coordinator for the Diversity Council. I am a Rochester native who left for ten years and returned nearly ten years ago. I have deep roots in this community, and live on an active century farm that has been in my family since 1897. My previous work history consists mostly of supporting people with varying abilities. Art, literature, and the humanities are also great passions of mine; they are tools I have used in my time as an art therapist, working with people from all walks of life.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the family farm with my grandmother, who was first-generation Irish. She was always spinning Irish records while we made food to feed the huge pile of people who were always going through the house: the woman had 9 children and 31 grandchildren. My dad would come in from doing chores and jig a reel with my grandma in the middle of the kitchen floor, spinning her around and tapping their toes in time to the music. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories and a reason you might see me tear up on St. Patrick’s Day.
History tells us that the Irish were not a very popular people when they first migrated to the United States. They were quickly pigeonholed as dirty alcoholics with a tendency toward mental illness that only knew how to fish and grow potatoes. The Irish experienced discrimination on many levels. The majority of these people came here for the same reason any immigrant leaves their country – they were in search of a better life, escaping from a country that had been pillaged and plundered for centuries, escaping war, escaping disease and famine, and looking for a better future for their families.
My Irish ancestors were given opportunity to farm in the Midwest, and though the learning curve was great and the environment drastically different, they were able to survive the bitter winters. In the coming decades, their communities were able to thrive and achieve great success, and we are very proud of what we were able to overcome.
The problem seems to be that many of us have forgotten the conditions from which we came. We’ve forgotten the wars that we survived and the times of famine, and forgotten the opportunities that were given to us: the land, the education, the free entry to the country. Many of us have become hardened and biased, prejudiced and selfish. The community of Rochester that I know is mostly affluent and well-off, yet many seem to have a problem offering others the same opportunity that was given to those who came before them. We’ve forgotten that we are all immigrants.
I recently had dinner at a popular restaurant in Lanesboro. The owner was telling us how he will probably be open three days a week this season, as opposed to five or six, because he cannot find anyone to work for him. On the days that he is open, he’ll be running on a “skeleton crew”. He has called his contacts in Rochester, and found that the service industry is short all over the community. New restaurants are opening, but they cannot find enough employees to staff them. And even if they did, there is no housing for them.
So I’m left scratching my head at the disconnect that is occurring. We have jobs and a need for housing (more jobs), but we don’t have people to do the work. At the same time, we have people around the planet in need of asylum, in need of work, and in need of a place to live. The last time I looked around the Midwest, we are certainly not running out of land or opportunity. I hope that the people who are closing these doors to humans in need will remember where they came from and remember the times when their own families were in need. I hope they can find security and faith in the fact that if they give others an opportunity to live, there will still be enough to go around. On a local level, we will continue to do our best to create change for those in need. I am grateful for the chance to serve with the Diversity Council.
I came across this poem recently, and felt that it resonated with my beliefs, and would fit well into an introduction of myself. Thank you for being here.
perhaps we are all immigrants
trading one home for another
first we leave the womb for air
then the suburbs for the filthy city
in search of a better life
some of us just happen to leave entire countries
- rupi kaur