Boston has long been known as an Irish city. But, however much we identify it as such, we know that Boston is not really the homogenous place it’s marketed as-it’s home to an ever-changing, ethnically diverse population of non-Irish, but nonetheless true and proud Bostonians. While we use that moniker of Boston Strong to describe that unnamable thing that makes Boston the city it is, it seems inextricably linked to this myth that Bostonians are one thing and not another, that Boston has a distinct culture, or that we have a collective identity that was somehow derived from our Irish origins.
Yet, how can we still call our city an Irish one when we reasonably know that it must not be? Is that Irish ethos just an image? Is our Irishness just an outdated founding myth? Do we even have a collective identity as a city? Or do we mean something else when we say Irish?
It is hard to write about the ethos of a city, and in my attempt to do so I might be guilty of that same mythologizing that I’m criticizing, but there is a Boston ethos, even if I don’t think it’s the one we all talk about.
Before I came to Boston almost four years ago, my family would make little jokes about Boston-how the Boston Irish were going to kick my Italian self out, how my New Jersey accent was going to wither and die in the face of that horrid Boston one, how Boston’s sad excuse for pizza would make me miss even the worst pizza I had back at home. To a bunch of Italian-American New Yorkers, Boston seemed like enemy territory.
Yet, I found the opposite to be true. I fell in love with Boston and its people, fell in love with the way that the city’s Irish heritage still affects the way the city works (even if that’s just because we keep telling ourselves it does), and fell in love (don’t ask me how) with the almost unreasonable loyalty Bostonians have for Boston.
There is a tough, hearty pride that Bostonians have, the kind of pride that one has for his or her country, for his or her heritage. It’s pride in what the city says it stands for. It’s pride in a heritage, whatever that heritage might be. To fit in here, you don’t have to be Irish-you just need to identify with Boston’s overarching culturalism that supersedes allegiances to any singular cultural identity.
Although St. Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate Irish heritage, it’s also a day that reveals how inclusive the Irish label is-it’s an identity that brings us all, Irish or not, a deep appreciation for culture and community. While I thought I would find difference in Boston, I found a surprising kinship. For me, that’s the real ethos of Boston-its Irishness makes it a welcoming city, a city of celebration, and a city of tradition. Although this might be my own brand of Boston fiction, the way Boston mobilized after the events of last year’s marathon proved to me that there must be something that makes Boston, Boston. Whatever it is, whether it’s Irishness or something else, it has defined my four years here and will hopefully continue to be a part of my life in years to come. (Don’t worry Mom, I am still coming home after graduation.)