The Irish Times,
Wed, Sep 19, 2007
Letter from Boston:They had the wake in Porterbellys, a pub in the Brighton section of Boston where Gaelic games are shown on one screen and Red Sox baseball games on another.
In the 19th century wakes like these used to be held in cottages and pubs in the west of Ireland, going away parties for those who were sailing to America and who, despite heartfelt protests to the contrary, were never coming back.
Now they hold them in America, in cities like Boston, in places like Porterbellys, for people like Paul and Jenny Ladd, who are going back to Ireland not because they want to but because they have to.
"How's Fr John?" Paul Ladd said in his singsong Cork accent.
Fr John McCarthy, a Limerick priest who works with Irish immigrants in Boston, smiled and gave Paul Ladd, a bear of a man, a hug.
"It's not right," Fr McCarthy said later, as the Ladds greeted the friends they had made during the 12 years they lived in Boston. "I look at people like Paul and Jenny and think, it's America's loss. So it is."
Paul bought Jenny three different Aer Lingus tickets before she agreed to join him in America, and that was only after she lost her delivery job in their native Mallow.
"I refused to go on the dole," Jenny said.
They landed in Boston with $250 in cash between them, and hit the pubs in Brighton, asking other immigrants where they could find work.
Within a few hours, Paul had a job, roofing. Within a few days, Jenny was cleaning houses. Within a few years, Paul had started his own roofing business.
They scrimped and saved and bought a house in Norwood, a Boston suburb where many residents are of Irish ancestry.
The Ladds tried to legalise their residency status. They couldn't. The system was broken, so like the tens of thousands of Irish who came here after the last of the Morrison visas were handed out in the early 1990s, the Ladds kept their heads down and stayed on.
Call them naive, but they thought that if you worked hard, paid taxes and kept your nose clean, eventually you would be embraced as an American.
There were two centuries of experience to suggest this approach worked, especially for the Irish, especially in Boston.
The same US government that wouldn't give the Ladds a way to get legal gladly handed them tax identification numbers and took their taxes. But, due to restrictions put in place after the 9/11 attacks, Paul Ladd couldn't renew his driver's licence last year and when his truck was stopped by police on a routine check, he and Jenny entered a system that no longer winks at people with freckles and brogues.
Shortly after arriving in Boston, Jenny got a second job as nanny for a family in Brookline, and the job came with a flat. She called her mum back in Cork to say she was living just a few blocks from where John F Kennedy was born.
A couple of months ago, Paul and Jenny Ladd stood in a courtroom in a building named for John F Kennedy and were ordered to leave the country. The Ladds never played the Irish card, even in a city where that long held currency. "We're no better than anyone else," Paul said.
They volunteered with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, seeking a comprehensive law for all immigrants. When Senator Ted Kennedy and others unveiled a bipartisan bill in June, and President George Bush vowed to sign it, the Ladds thought they would be spared deportation. But the immigration bill crashed and burned in the Senate just weeks later.
A weak president and a cynical Congress were no match for the anti-immigrant sentiment that hovers like a fog over parts of America. Last week Michael Carr, an immigrant who has a painting business and makes a few bob on the side singing in Boston's myriad Irish pubs, dedicated the first song of his first set at Porterbellys to Paul Ladd. It was the old Christy Moore song, Ordinary Man. Ladd mouthed the words as Carr sang: "I'm an ordinary man, nothing special, nothing grand. I've had to work for everything I own."
Jenny Ladd chatted with Matt Arnold, the American boy for whom she was a nanny. Matt's all grown up now, and at 22 just graduated from university.
Jenny was wearing a loud green T-shirt, and the words on the front - Legalize the Irish - seemed especially plaintive and poignant.
Matt's mother, Victoria, stood next to them and shook her head. "I think it's wrong that Paul and Jenny are getting deported," she said. "They are the kind of people who make this country better. They're the immigrant story."
In Boston, they are the immigrant story in reverse. Boston's Irish-born community, which has been replenishing itself for a century and a half, is drying up. Since 9/11, many have gone home, and fewer are coming over.
Some held on the last couple of years, hoping for immigration reform. Now, as that seems a long way off, even if the Democrats win the White House back, the December flights to Ireland are filling up quickly. A lot of the Irish want to be home for Christmas.
Paul Ladd doesn't know what he'll do back in Cork.
"I'll find whatever work I can," he said.
Jenny has lined up a job to clean houses.
"That's what I did when I first came to America," she said. "I'm starting over where I began."
Jenny looked up at one of the ceiling beams. Hanging there was one of those authentic black and white road signs from back home. It said Bantry was three miles away. "It feels like a million miles," Jenny said.Kevin Cullen