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Latter Day Irish Immigrant - 2002-11-08

English Feature #7-35096 Broadcast July 30, 2001

The tidal wave of immigrants from Ireland that swept into the United States in the mid-19th century has dwindled to a trickle--less than a thousand people a year. And the Irish who come to America these days are no longer fleeing famine or poverty. As often as not, they are leaving relatively comfortable lives, looking for new experiences or new opportunities. Today on New American Voices you'll meet Gillian Doggart, a recent immigrant from Ireland.

It was not political unrest or economic hardship that compelled twenty-five-year-old Gillian Doggart to leave everything familiar behind and emigrate to the United States. It was, rather, a sense of adventure and the chance to lead a different kind of life in a new country.

"I think I was always brought up that if an opportunity came up, to go for it. And I really didn't think it was going to be such a move, because I grew up very much with American culture, we had all the American sitcoms and TV... I have to admit that there's been times when I've sat in tears thinking, 'Why on earth did I come here', but most of it's just been wonderful, I've really enjoyed it."

Gillian Doggart has the fair skin, green eyes and auburn hair of a typical Irish beauty. She grew up in a middle-class family in a small town not far from Belfast in Northern Ireland. She says the sectarian violence that characterizes life in the region has not had any direct effect on her family - although when she was in school classes were disrupted periodically by bomb scares. The violence also had nothing to do with her decision to move to America.

Miss Doggart's job with a computer company first brought her to the Washington on assignment for a month or so last October. She liked the city and the people, so when the computer company, which had signed a major contract with the Voice of America, offered her the position of project manager, she accepted, and in January moved to the United States permanently. There are a number of things that appeal to her about life in America.

"I like the fact that I'm quite anonymous. Back home… I think somebody told me that there's between 23 and 30 thousand people work in the Pentagon. There's 23 to 30 thousand people live in the town that I'm from. So it was very much everybody knew you, everybody knew what you did, where you were going, and at times I find that quite claustrophobic. Whereas I liked coming out here - in a way it was just like a fresh new start, nobody knew me, nobody knew that I was this person's granddaughter or that person's sister, it was nice to come out and just have that little level of anonymity."

Gillian Doggart believes that because she is living in the United States, she'll become a different person than she would have had she stayed in Ireland.

"I think I'll probably be a much more relaxed person, living here. Back home, you were quite constrained by what people had done before, their expectations. Especially - not that they looked down on women in any way - but to an extent women went into certain roles, and I think here I'll have the freedom to grow as a person and not be constrained by, well, I can't do that because I live here, or I can't do that because I'm a girl. In America you can--or I find that you can be just whatever you want to be."

In contrast to many other immigrants, Ms Doggart is not inclined to seek out her compatriots here - although she would have no trouble finding them. In the 1990 census, as many as 44 million U.S. residents claimed to have Irish heritage.

"Most of the time, you go into a store, and as soon as they hear the accent it's 'oooooh, my great-grandmother came from County Cork, and my this, and my that, and I've visited Ireland!"

In Ireland Ms Doggart lived with her parents in a house overlooking farmland dotted by sheep and cows and donkeys. In Washington she rents a two-bedroom townhouse overlooking other townhouses. Having seized the opportunity when it arose, she has no qualms about leaving her familiar world and moving into a new one.

"I relish the thought of it. I look forward to the independence and the freedom that it will give me. I do miss my family very much, but I don't particularly miss home."

Ms Doggart's job is expected to last at least until December. But as computer specialist she believes she will have no difficulty finding employment that will allow her to stay in the United States. And she knows what she would like the future in this country to hold for her.

"The unknown. I would like to not know where my life is going. I would like to be able to take the challenges that are offered to me, to take the opportunities that are offered to me, and not have my life planned out. Because that's the way I think it would have been at home, you know: at this age you got married, at this age you started a family, at this age you did this… And I just like very much the idea that I don't know what's around the corner."

If you would like this program to focus on the experiences of immigrants from some particular country--perhaps one that we haven't covered in our programs yet--please write to us care of New American Voices at the Voice of America in Washington, D.C. Or you can send us electronic mail through this website. In our next feature you'll meet Dr. Eun Kim, a Korean immigrant who studies American cultural diversity