Patrick Corbett

Transcript of Patrick Corbett
Interviewee: Patrick Corbett
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: February 15th, 2014
Place: Edgewater Public Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 26:53 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker, with Patrick Corbett from Ireland. We are at the Edgewater Public Library at 6000 N Broadway St. The date is the 15th of February, and the time is 3:00 pm. So, you’re from Ireland, correct?

PC: Yes.

ML: Are you from a particular city, or town…?

PC: Dublin.

ML: Dublin?

PC: Yeah.

ML: Ok. Um, what was it like growing up in Dublin?

PC: Um [laughs]. I guess it was a little similar to here, you know, for kids growing up here in the middle of [unintelligible]. You know, background. Catholic schools, and…pretty normal. A lot of the TV and stuff like that that I grew up with was American stuff, so…I had a lot in common with people here my age, and knew about that kind of stuff, pop culture stuff, things like that. A lot of that was similar.

ML: Ok. How old were you when you left…

PC: Uh, twenty three.

ML: Ok.

PC: Yeah, twenty three. I had done an apprenticeship with a diesel mechanic, so…it was…there was very high unemployment, I was lucky to be able to stay on, and it was on a six month renewal contract, stuff like that, so that when I got the opportunity, at the time, there was no Celtic tiger, that going on, so…when the opportunity came up, you took it. I got an eighteen month student visa. That’s how I got my foot in the door, worked from there to get another visa, a work visa, and eventually got my green card.


ML: Was Chicago the first city you came to in the U.S.?

PC: No, I went to Milwaukee first. I had met a woman, she was an immigration lawyer in Ireland, she was vacationing, and…it was through her that I had somewhere to stay which was in Milwaukee. So I took advantage of that, ‘cause…I knew some people in Boston, but a lot of them were older, they were like grandfather’s sisters, stuff like that. So I came out here and took the opportunity. I had some distant relatives in Chicago that I had dug up, so I came down and visited them a few times, that’s how I ended up in Chicago. I met my wife down here, so…I kept coming down, and…I would have liked to have gone somewhere warmer, but here we are.

ML: How’s the weather compared to Dublin, in Chicago?

PC: It doesn’t get as cold over there, and it doesn’t get as hot in the winter…or in the summer. If it’s in the 70s it’s a heat wave, and we’re roaming around, boiling. The winters aren’t as cold or as brutal as they are here. So eighteen, nineteen years later you get used to it. You toughen up. It’s not so bad.

ML: I’m dealing with that myself, I came from North Carolina, so…I get it.

PC: Ok. Somewhere I still don’t care for too much. I don’t like the blistering heat that we get. But…I’ll deal with it.


ML: So you followed work from Dublin to Milwaukee to Chicago?

PC: Yeah, I came over…twice, like on vacation… knocked on doors, looked for…looking for a job. Dropped off resumes, stuff like that. ‘Cause I had to get a job offer to get a work visa, so…I did that, and I went to a lot of places in Milwaukee. The second time I came over, places had heard of me, they knew me, I knocked on the door again, couple of places offered me jobs, one of them I took. And put in for a visa right away, I got that within 3 months of that, so…

ML: How would you rate your visa process? The whole process of getting the visa and then finding work here…

PC: Um, it was pretty tough. And I had a lawyer and stuff like that, I mean looking back on the process I can see why… I understand why people from poor countries come in illegally. The money’s not there and it is an awful racket. I can see why people, would have a few dollars in their pocket, still not try to use the system. It’s not geared…it’s not user friendly, I guess you could say. It was tough…jumped through a lot of hoops, and do a lot… I don’t know if I’d do it twice, I’d have to, really think about it. It was really expensive. To do it twice, I’m not so sure [laughs].


ML: Have you found a lot of people from Dublin in particular, or Ireland in general in Edgewater?

PC: No, not a lot. I found even less in Milwaukee. Not many down here. When I came, I wasn’t here long when the Irish economy started to boom and take off. And this Celtic tiger money coming in from the E.U., and peace in the North. Clinton brought a lot of…investment over to Ireland, and lot of drug companies, computer makers, stuff like that. So, all hell broke loose after I left. There was plenty of work. There was no shortage of jobs or money, so…a lot of people weren’t coming out then. So I found a lot of people that didn’t need work. I would say about at least ten years older or more than I was. I didn’t find a lot of people my age group, no. Or a lot of them that had come out were going back, I knew people that came out to different parts of the States or Australia, and then they went back again. So no, I didn’t meet a lot of people…not until the last couple of years that I started to meet people who were coming out again, slowly.


ML: Do you find that anything in particular that draws people in? I know Ireland is a big Catholic country…do you find a lot of people in church?

PC: No.

ML: No?

PC: No, I’m not a very church person. Part of my generation are kind of…really turned away from the church, we grew up with a lot of…garbage that was going on, what our parents…it was a very…no matter what went on, be it domestic abuse or whatever, it wasn’t talked about, everything was kept behind closed doors, good Catholic country. My generation, the kids before us, and that started to rebel against…there was a lot of going against [unintelligible] a lot of people turning their back on the Catholic Church. You had people like Sinead O’Connor and that at the time, who really identified with what was going on, and spoke out against it…went to a couple of rallies in Dublin where she spoke. Back then she tore up the picture of the Pope. That was all big stuff.

So a lot of our generation turned our back on the Church, we felt it was part of what held us back for so long. It had an influence on how the Protestants in the North felt about combining, or anything to do with a united Ireland. Felt it was very repressed in that, so…no, for me it was a negative thing, wasn’t…anything to do with the Catholic Church. I didn’t want anything to do with it when I came out here then, stayed away from…it was mostly…I had found distant family out here, and that’s how I found my roots and stuff, and met people through them. So a lot of people that I’d met here were Americans and I moved in circles that were mostly Americans or Irish-Americans.


ML: You said you found your roots. Would you…what country do you identify with the most? Or, are you split between the two?

PC: Yeah, I’m kind of split between the two. I had a lot of interest in Irish history. And Dublin, the politics and current affairs and what was going on at the time. I’ve always had that and I still do, and I read a lot about it, and keep up with it. I would identify with a lot of that, I keep in touch with that. When I call people at home, I sound like a Yank. To the Americans, I sound like an Irishman. Between the two I can’t shake off one identity or hold the other, so I can’t win. So I just go with the flow, and identity…

ML: That’s fair enough. When you moved to Chicago, did you move immediately into Edgewater? Or did you live in other neighborhoods?

PC: Yeah. Yeah, my wife was from Edgewater, she just lived a few blocks from here, so…the people I met [unintelligible] were kind of around the Edgewater area. I had some other cousins in Sauganash and Ravenswood, right? Yeah, this was the main area that I was at. So then when I moved to Chicago, I moved here. Found a woman and everything, and I was good, you know?


ML: Part of what draws a lot of people to Edgewater is the…that diversity of the different people that come from around the world into this particular neighborhood in Chicago. Have you found that to be the case? That it’s pretty diverse?

PC: Yes. Yes. And I wouldn’t leave the area, because of that. I like the mish-mash of people that are here…restaurants, theaters. You got all that kind of stuff here. You got a good mix of people. I like that. A lot of different food, a lot of stuff I’ve never come across before, so…yeah, I really like it. I would be hard-pressed to leave here.

ML: Do you find that people, on the whole, feel kind of the way you do? Where they don’t want to leave, and it helps build a stronger community?

PC: I think so, yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of people have found a home here. It’s easy to make a home in this neighborhood. People are very open-minded. They don’t kind of go along different racial or ethnic groups compared to other parts of the city, or even the country that I’ve been in. I’ve seen it more divided. This area here in Chicago is very open-minded people.


ML: So you said “open-minded.” One of the philosophies that we talk about is the feeling of being the stranger, where you feel like an outsider. Was that your experience when you moved here? Getting a work visa, getting your green card eventually, and finding a wife.

PC: Right.

ML: Did you ever feel like a stranger?

PC: Well you do a little bit at first, but I supposed it’s to be expected. It’s like going to a party, or anything with any group of people that you don’t know. Four hours later, you’ve met someone. You’re talking to people. You’re getting around. You’re half in the bag. It’s easier. It’s kind of the same thing maybe on a bigger scale. It takes you time to meet people and [unintelligible]. I think sometimes, from my experience looking back, people that immigrate have a certain mindset, and…. If they’re not doing it because they’re being forced or if they aren’t getting out of a war zone or something like that, I think they’re more malleable. Mixing with people of different cultures and that.


ML: Did you find it easy to…bring a portion of your culture into America? Into Edgewater in particular?

PC: Well I found there was no shortage of it. That was for sure. I mean there’s Irish everything, everywhere. At first…and I kind of read this from other people. Not just writers and stuff like James Joyce, who had a strange relationship with Ireland after he left. And a lot of writers did, and I read that…and a lot of immigrants too just in interviews and books I read on Irish people that had, that were liberated. I was like that too, where I was kind of… I wanted to get as far away from what I had left. I felt, now I was here, it was something new, you could quit a job in the morning, at the time, in the 90s, you could quit a job and pick up another one that day, later that week, and be fine. There’s all sorts of food. There was everything, everything was open to you. It wasn’t like out in Ireland, a very small country, very closed then because of that. It was hard to move around, you didn’t have the same opportunities. So yeah, coming here that was, that was a big change. It took a while, to work out of that stranger mode, but not long. It wasn’t hard to do.


ML: And how long have you been here?

PC: I don’t even know anymore, off the top of my head. I think it’s nineteen years, eighteen years.

ML: Ok. In the eighteen or nineteen years that you’ve been here, have you seen Edgewater change a whole lot?

PC: Yeah. Yeah, I think there was a big change there when the economy tanked. A lot of places got boarded up. A lot of new businesses come in. [Unintelligible] Like Clark Street used to be full of auto shops. That’s slowly changing. A lot of new buildings have gone in, stuff like that. Yeah, it has changed, but the beat of it is still the same. The people in it kind of go with the changes. I don’t think it’s upset and it hasn’t driven people away or anything like that, they don’t see it as horrible. They might not like it, but they adapt. It’s a pity when you see old buildings get torn down to [unintelligible] garbage, but you know it happens. But yeah, it has changed a bit, I wouldn’t say drastic. I think it’s changed for the better in some ways.


ML: What do you mean?

PC: Just the influx of people coming in is the biggest thing. And for me at least it’s a lot of the restaurants, theaters, stuff like that that have opened. I always found the food in America is amazing. I didn’t know there were that many types of apples. I thought there was apple, and that was it. You go to an American grocery store, the place is enormous. Dozens of the same kind of thing like fruit I’ve never heard of. Stuff I’d never seen and all that kind of thing is fantastic. So many restaurants coming in, there’s an Iranian place we go to, there’s a new pita place, a new Mexican joint open, so when you got all that different kind of food…I mean I love food, I’ve never missed a meal.

ML: [Laughs]

PC: You use that.

ML: Do you find that food that brings people together?

PC: Yeah. Yeah, I mean…I think anywhere you go, on different levels maybe, but food is a big thing. People sit down, you got food at a party, everyone’s going to have a good time. And drink of course. [Unintelligible]. A pub with food in it is always better; too…food always brings people together. You got a place like this; they’re going to go round with it.


ML: So, you were talking earlier about how the economy was tanking in Ireland when you left, and after you left it got bolstered. Did you ever have any pull to go back, once it built itself back up?

PC: I would say there was a few rough days. It was tough here. I took on a lot of debt. I didn’t have any money when I came over. I borrowed money just to get over. Being a mechanic I couldn’t bring tools, I could only bring a few, so…I had to spend…tools are very expensive. I spent a fortune. I had to buy a box that was the price of a car. Had to get a car. So I was taking on all this debt. Everything was a problem. So anyway, yeah I was getting in a lot of debt. I would see what was going on in Ireland, and I’d wonder, “Jesus, did I make a serious mistake here?” But I would call people. And I kept in touch with an array of guys. Guys my own age to old timers I’d worked with, and…talking to them, they’d always say to me, “Jesus, don’t come back. It’s all on credit. This country’s never had money. It’s not going to have money. This is going to burst.”

But I was knee-deep in it too. I’d gone this far with the green card. I started to make money. I started to make roots. There comes a point, and you don’t know when it is, but you start thinking about, if I do go back because the economy’s better or whatever, you’ve laid down as many roots here as there, so it’s hard to kind of uproot again. It’s easier to do when you’re younger, I think. I don’t know if I could do it now. When you’re young, you’re nuts. You’ll do anything. When you get older, though, you get a bit more cautious. You start worrying about your few dollars. You start worrying about retirement, stuff like that. You don’t know if you want to go back or not. Then you call up and you talk to people. Everything sounds worse there than it is here. It always seemed, and we were certain, we were always told when we were growing up, “If you think things were bad here…it was always better in the States.” Even when the States had high unemployment in the 80s, not a lot of Irish people leave…and granted they were probably picking up lower paying jobs, getting a lot of abuse that goes with it, but they were still better than no jobs and high unemployment over there at the time.


ML: Do you visit Ireland often?

PC: Yeah, I have more in the last few years, I’ve had the…I’ve had the money to be able to get back a bit more. I had a job that…I would work fourteens [hours], I’d have a four day weekend twice a month. So once in a while I could take a day or two, and make four or five days of it, and go over. Airfares were cheap too, that helped… hint, hint. Now it’s a little more expensive, but I do try and get back. I try to get over there once every two to three years at least if I can.


ML: Have you had family come over here to visit?

PC: Yeah, yeah a little bit. Not as much. It’s so expensive for them to get to here and actually come over. But I’ve had a few…again in the 90s when money was flying around more people came over [unintelligible].

ML: Do you find that the culture that you growing up kind of inserts itself into your everyday life?

PC: Here? Yeah, yeah. I gotta say it was a hell of a lot easier for me to come here than it would be for people from a lot of other countries. I spoke English, like I said. The pop culture, stuff like that -I knew that right away. So I could easily mix with people my age. It wasn’t vastly different. The sense of humor was a little different, but I mean…. The bands that we listened, all that kind of stuff that was all the same. So for me it was very easy to, to assimilate into it here.


ML: So it almost like growing up here.

PC: Yeah, yeah it wasn’t that different. A few weeks of it, I was on the horse [unintelligible].

ML: Overall how would you rate the entire immigration experience from Dublin to Milwaukee to here… and you’ve been here a long time?

PC: There was times when it was pretty brutal. It was slow moving. It’s pretty stressful. There’s a lot of hurry up and get this, and wait for six months. Then you’re calling to see if they forgot you, stuff like that. But I know that it was a lot easier for me than it would have been for a lot of other people. Like I said I spoke the language and all that kind of stuff. I had to show that I had…. Well one was that I moved from a student visa. I got a second student visa temporarily. Then I had a work visa. But when I got that then, I had to take out an ad in the newspaper, and it was in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I couldn’t just do it in a local paper. I had to make sure some American wasn’t unemployed and needed a job that I was doing. So you have to get that. You have to get your education, what that is, and the Department of Education transferred that over and what does that mean?

At this stage I had been working at my job for three years, so I showed I could do it. I could hold down a job. I had to show I was able to save a few dollars. I wasn’t in trouble with the cops…all that kind of thing. You have to show that you’re able to fit in and not be a burden or a nuisance. All that wasn’t bad. Wasn’t hard to do. But for a lot of people it can be tough. If you don’t speak the language I think it’s a lot easier to get into trouble here, faster.


ML: When you came over here, did you come over with a group, or were you completely by yourself?

PC: No, I was on my own.

ML: Was that hard?

PC: Yeah, I mean I suppose it was. Like I said, I was young and nuts. I was just kind of, “Do it.” sort of thing. Looking back, I think if I had stopped and thought about it…like I was able to think through to the next point, this is what I’m going to do, and these are the steps, and I’ll deal with the problems as they come up. So I was able to do that. But, now I think I’d be a lot more cautious. But like I said, you get older you get that way anyway.


ML: Have you, in your conversations with family and friends in Ireland, been told of anybody who’s trying to do the same thing, and immigrate over here?

PC: There wasn’t a lot of it in the 90s, because there was a lot of good jobs in Ireland. Now, immigration has picked up a lot in the last few years. It’s very hard to get into America. People just aren’t trying now. They’re going to Canada and Australia…Germany is…I read somewhere is what, 40,000 Irish have immigrated to Munich alone, in the last four or five years. People are leaving, en mass. It’s what we do in Ireland, we immigrate. So, people aren’t coming to the States as much. I hear of people, young people that are leaving through…even people I grew up with now…it’s a shock when I stop and think about it, but they’ve got kids that are in their twenties, and are going to college or finishing college, and there’s not a lot going on there. So they’re looking to get out and go somewhere else…better opportunities, better lifestyle. It’s starting to pick up again, but I haven’t…no, I don’t know of any that have come to the States now. It’s just gotten so hard to get in.


ML: Hypothetically, if somebody asked you, are you American? Are you Irish? Are you Irish-American? Who do you think you identify with? Or who do you feel that you identify with?

PC: Well, I would say first to anyone that would ask me that, that I’m Irish. Because if Americans ask me that, they know I’m not American, so they’re asking right away…but, I would say I identify as an American. I live here. I pay taxes here. This is where my life is. This country has put bread on my table, a shirt on my back…I suppose it’s where your home is, and that’s where it is. I was twenty three when I left there, so I’m nearly here as long as [unintelligible]. I figure once I get that tipping point I can officially say I’m a Yank, and that’s it. But until then there’s always that grey area, when someone here asks, “Are you Irish?” When I go back, I’ve had people think I’m American. But that’s how they hear my voice. I do hear the kids making fun of me because they think I sound like a Yank. And then you pick up the phrases and that that they have here and you use them, so…


ML: So, for you, where is home?

PC: America, yeah. But, when I’m going home to Ireland I always say I’m going home for a few weeks, or something like that. So it’s kind of a funny relationship with that. It’s…I guess it’s who’s asking me the question, or what am I talking about, when it comes to that.

ML: When you think about Chicago in general as being “home,” do you identify with Chicago in general as the big city with lots of people, or do you identify as Edgewater, that neighborhood that you’ve grown so close to?

PC: Well, if I’m talking to people here, I identify with Edgewater. Of course when I’m in Ireland, they don’t know where that is so I say Chicago. So until people have come over here and know where I’m talking about, and see it…and it’s a great place if people come over. If people come over, it’s great for them to just go out and do their own thing. Friends and family stay with me. They do their own thing, and I don’t have to…they’re not going to starve in Edgewater, they’re not going to go thirsty, they’ll find a play or a show or something. It’s a good place for them to be.


ML: If you had to give one piece of advice to anybody thinking from coming specifically from Dublin to Edgewater, what do you think it’d be?

PC: Don’t think too hard about it [laughs]. I think when you start thinking, that’s when the problems come about.

ML: Just do it.

PC: If you come from Dublin to Edgewater, it’s very easy to do. Dublin’s…it’s a big city. It’s not Chicago big but it’s a big city. It’s got the same things. It’d be the same for you. You got off the plane in Dublin in the morning, you’d have no problem. You speak the language, you’re already halfway there. You get around. So, it’d be the same for people coming from Dublin to here. It might be a different experience for someone coming from a rural part of Ireland. But, then it’d be the same for someone coming from a rural part of America, you know?

ML: Well, thank you very much for giving me your story. I’ve greatly enjoyed it.

PC: Sure.