Maeve Higgins: 'I’m Irish over there and I can see how different my experience is'

Cobh-born Maeve Higgins discusses her life as an Irish person in America in the latest Weekend podcast
Maeve Higgins: 'I’m Irish over there and I can see how different my experience is'

Maeve Higgins Weekend podcast

Maeve Higgins says her experience as an Irish person in America opened her eyes to issues like race and identity.

Higgins is hopeful about Joe Biden's presidency but says she has seen many US politicians misuse their Irish American heritage.

"I do wonder with Biden how deep it goes. A lot of Irish Americans borrow the culture and it’s this sentimental touchstone with the poetry and the twinkle in the eye. He yelled at a BBC reporter ‘I’m not going to answer, I’m Irish’, joking - a light touch," she tells Ciara McDonnell in ‘The Moments That Made Me', the Weekend podcast from the Irish Examiner in association with Green & Black's.

"And then we have Irish Americans who were previously in government like Mike Pence, whose grandfather is from Mayo, and Mick Mulvaney. There is a scene that is so telling to me about Irish America which was on St Patrick's Day in, I think, 2017. They go all out and wear shamrocks and the Taoiseach visits, it’s a real Irish day. It shows this really powerful access that this small island has to America, which is such a big powerhouse still. Mick Mulvaney was there wearing the shamrocks as he sat and cut a famine relief budget. It’s so ironic."

She feels the famine experience was something that still lingers in the Irish psyche today as 'blood memory'.

"Leaving is a big part of the Irish [experience]. There’s this term, ‘blood memory’. I think there’s this passed down pain in the Irish experience that maybe starts when you’re 10 and you read Under The Hawthorn Tree. There’s some kind of understanding there that may be in ourselves."

Higgins says her experience as a white Irish woman in the United States is a stark contrast to how people with similar cultural backgrounds are treated there based on the colour of their skin.

"I’m Irish over there and I can see how different my experience is. 

The Syrians wanted to be governed fairly, we were the same during our War of Independence. Then things went really awry and they had a massive civil war and now they just need a safe place to live. That’s just like the Irish.

She says her life in America has shown her that 'whiteness' is often what needs to be tackled in society.

"It’s been useful to live in America because of the Black Lives Matter movement. It really helped me to understand and learn more about whiteness. Sometimes when you talk about race in America everyone immediately starts talking about ‘black people deserve this’ or ‘as a black person…’ but it’s whiteness, that’s what we need to explore, especially as a white person. It’s a process. 

"There are obvious things, I understood quite quickly that it was easier for me to get a visa to get into America in the first place because I’m European, because I’m white, because I’m not a refugee, because I’m one of a lucky percentage of the world Seeing the treatment of black migrants is really eye-opening."

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