US President Barack Obama and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen walk down the steps of the Capitol March 17, 2009 following a Saint Patrick’s Day lunch hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington DC.
Only rarely do I ever comment on current news items. In my way of thinking, just about everything has already been written about any given topic, either for or against. My two cents would simply add to the overwhelming chatter of the blogosphere, and besides, I never want to make public statements that might alienate my readers. You see, I still hold to the notion that on some level we created the internet to bring unity, not division.
Having said that, a rather curious reference caught my attention from within a larger news article. President Barack Obama met with Irish Primer Minister Brian Cowen on this Saint Patrick's Day, and made a press statement regarding his Irish heritage. I did a double take. After all the public flap about President Obama's ethnicity, I was surprised to see that he added Ireland to a long list of ethnic origins. A quick Google search confirmed that literally thousands of websites referenced Obama's Irish heritage as early as the presidential campaign, including a few that criticized his claim to Ireland as an attempt to create a false sense of connection to "mainstream" Americans. One website even posted a video of a faux Irish drinking song where the chorus line croons over and over again, "There's no one more Irish than Barack O'Bama."
Ethnicity is a tricky concept, much less concrete than people might assume.
I consider myself a prime example of the "O'Bama Irish." My father was a "full-blood" member of the Spokane Tribe, and I have rarely been considered anything but Native American. But like President Obama, my predominant skin color only tells half the story. My mother is American like the prevailing notion of Americans. Her ancestors arrived to these shores from places like England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, and yes, Ireland. Like millions of Irish who fled the famines of their homeland, my Irish ancestors, the Lynches and the Tobins, settled near Minneapolis, Minnesota and unwittingly created a new concept of ethnic identity. On the day they first planted their feet on American soil, I suppose they never imagined they would one day produce a son born of the indigenous tribes of this continent.
As a man of mixed ethnic origins, I welcome the Obama presidency. Love him or hate him, his presence in the White House invites us to struggle with questions of identity more than ever before, whether we base that question on race, ethnicity, or political ideology.