Áine Greaney

Irish Author

Leading Creative Writing Workshops and Writing Stuff for 20+ years.

North Shore of Boston via Ireland

Filtering by Category: immigrant memoirs

Big American Anniversaries

This month I celebrate the 30th anniversary of that day when I landed, terrified and wide-eyed, in America.  

Anniversaries are a time for looking backward, so these days my eyes are firmly fixed in the rear-view mirror.  

Here's what I see in that mirror: On the public and political front, this has been the very worst of those 30 years.  

For many of us in America, this has been the year to chide ourselves for our heretofore simplistic and deluded understanding about who and what this country actually is ( the "United" States? I think not).  

Still, as artists in America, it's our job to offset some of the damage done and being done today, as I write this.  Even in bad old 2016, there's still time. Today and tomorrow and on Christmas Day and for all eight days of Hanukkah and on New Year's Eve, write or paint or photograph or compose or sculpt like your life depends on it. 

Because in many ways, it actually does.

Write and create for those who are too scared or too voiceless or too persecuted or too busy working three low-wage jobs to have the luxury of writing. 

Also, use your art and your voice to advocate and resist. For local protest events near you, check out PEN America's Writers Resist.  

Despite the political schisms and our very, very scary headlines, here's what I also see in that rear-view mirror: All those 2016 days when I pinched myself at my good fortune. I'm not just healthy and alive and with a roof over my head; I'm able to do (and teach) what I love to do and teach.  

In my three decades here, writing has brought me my closest friends. Writing and books have put me in the very best company I know.  Writing has given me my tribe and the existential home that I left home to find.

For these and for you, my friends, I am deeply grateful. 

On Thanksgiving: What Immigrants Bring to Our Shores

This week, a local news reporter called me. He was doing a Thanksgiving-themed piece on people who had washed up here in our coastal New England town from other countries (a la pilgrims). He was looking for local expatriates or immigrants who had  "done well." This last qualifier made me think. Done well. 

I arranged to meet the reporter for an evening interview at one of our local diners. There, over a cup of hot tea, I gave dates and years and reasons for leaving Ireland, followed by my motivations for staying in the U.S. of A.

I'm not sure "motivations" describes it. Most of the time, for most of us, it feels like one day rolls over into the next, and, gee, I just paid for a full tank of gas. So why waste $40 worth of refined petroleum by heading off to another country or, indeed, back to my native country of Ireland (where gas is much more expensive)?

Done well.

For some of the people I drive past on the highway every morning, I imagine that "done well" means getting to pay next month's rent. Or it means feeding their kids for another day. Or if I stroll through certain streets in Boston or my nearby cities in the Merrimack Valley, there are plenty of people for whom 'doing well' means snagging a dry, warm place to sleep for that night.

Or for an estimated 11 million people, 'doing well' means getting to stay within these shores (immigration reform, let's get a move on here), to do what they've already been doing: working and paying the rent and feeding themselves and their kids.  

Make no mistake about it: However "well" or sorta-well  us long-term expats may have done (and, of course, this is all relative and can implode at any time), we have a responsibility to these newcomers--to those folks not being called or interviewed by their local newspaper.

We also have a responsibility to live by that bootstrap phrase that our national and local politicians (especially in greater Boston) love to toss around and overuse: "Never forget where you came from."   

For me, "where I came from" is no longer my native country, but my heretofore status--26 years ago now--as a wide-eyed and petrified newcomer to these shores.

I've never forgotten that. I hope I never will.

In 2014: What Immigrants Contribute to the U.S. Economy 

Did you know that immigrants now comprise approximately 14% of the U.S. workforce? Also, immigrants are just as likely (as native born folks) to own their own businesses—thereby creating U.S. jobs.

Often, the public dialog tends to center around illegal immigrants, but every year, far more legally-admitted immigrants come here than those who enter without legal status (immigration reform, you're still not off the hook).

Among this legal group, 16% are sponsored by U.S. employers to fill in positions for which no U.S. worker was available, and an additional 8% come as refugees or asylees, fleeing persecution and looking for safety and freedom in the U.S. The remainder come for family reasons.

The Contribution of Undocumented Immigrants

They contribute their talents, their labor, their languages, cultures and outsider insight. Many risk their lives to come here. They also contribute cold, hard cash. Yep! Contrary to the fact-mangling vitriol I've had to endure at dinner and cocktail parties, undocumented immigrants do, in fact, pay taxes--a whopping 7.7 million of them, according to one study. Cumulatively, undocumented immigrant workers pay an estimated 11.2 billion into the U.S. Social Security fund, and an additional 2.6 billion into Medicare—money and benefits that the immigrant workers themselves will never be able to reclaim as benefits.

Myths, questions and answers about U.S. Immigrants 


NPR "Here and Now" segment, "Can Immigrants Save Small-Town America?"

Op-Ed piece"Don't Shut the Golden Door" in the New York Times?

Test your own knowledge with this quiz from "The New Americans," from the  PBS series, 'Independent Lens.'

Copyright 2011-2014 Aine Greaney