11.19.2007

Mairéad Byrne: Poet, Migrant, Immigrant-- Inbetweener

Here's an excerpt from Rob Mclennan's 12 or 20 questions: with Mairéad Byrne:

I’m an immigrant and a migrant. Providence is quite close to my own home environment of Dublin, at least Dublin before it became prosperous. South County Rhode Island is uncannily like South County Dublin. When I look out over the bay at Narragansett I expect to find Howth and am disoriented not to.

I’m very aware of place but move on easily, or at least have so far. But I still think about the places I have lived; and the places members of my family have lived: all their smells & atmospheres. I have very acute memories of my older sister’s first flat in Dublin, in the late 1960’s. That was the first place I ever smelled curry. The first place I ever saw an eggplant, or tamarind. I remember the smell of America when I first came to New York. That was an apartment, not a flat.

I value mobility. When I was a young journalist, I had nothing, materially, but I had access to those who had less than nothing, and to those who had a lot more. I came to America with $400 and a 7-year old child, knowing no-one, not even being able to drive. I kind of believe in the American dream, and I still believe in America. I teach at Rhode Island School of Design, a private school, and that 7-year old child, a daughter, is now a Junior at Brown, studying Applied Math & Economics.

I’m still an inbetweener. I work in a situation of privilege. My colleagues and students are predominantly White or Asian. I live in a situation much closer to poverty, and there is much poverty in Providence. My neighborhood is predominantly Hispanic, and Black, as is my younger daughter’s school. Black America has had an enormous influence on me, ethically. Also Black music and poetry. The America I emigrated for was Black rather than White. These terms seem harsh when I write them; the reality is harsh too but not quite so stark. The fabric of my work is quite similar to the fabric of my life. The relationships are visible.