For the Mexican American-Chicano community St. Patrick’s Day is—or at least should be—more than a day to have fun and drink green beer. By way of their Mexican heritage, Chicanos/as have an historical and a genetic nexus with the Irish. People familiar with Mexican history know of “Los San Patricios,” the battalion made up of Irishmen (and some Germans), who fought valiantly on the Mexican side of the Mexican-American War. Because the San Patricios are considered national heroes in Mexico, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Mexico, particularly where they fought and died. Likewise, many communities in the U.S. who are home to sizable Mexican American communities celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. [More detail on the role of Los Patricios in the Mexican-American War below.]
As to the genetic nexus: members of Los Patricios who survived the war remained in Mexico and married and built families. The children of these families themselves had children, who then married and had children, continuing and expanding the Irish-Mexican/German-Mexican lines over several generations. Over time, many of their descendants immigrated to the U.S.
There is also an historical civil-rights dimension to the Mexican American-Irish American nexus. Both groups were stereotyped as, among other things, lazy, dishonest, and criminal-oriented. In Protestant America, both groups were derided as idol-worshipping papists, i.e., being of the Catholic faith. When it came to jobs, the “No Irish Need Apply” signs that were common in the East back in the day were the counterpart of the “No dogs or Mexicans allowed” signs ubiquitous in the Southwest. Both groups used the same basic vehicles to gain acceptance and assert their rights. They joined the military and became politically active, mostly via the Democratic Party. They joined unions and formed social clubs and mutual-aid societies. They protested and confronted the political establishment.
The nexus between these two groups continues today. After Mexicans, one of the largest groups of undocumented workers in the U.S. is comprised of Irish folk. In places like New York and Boston, immigration dynamics gave rise to community organizations that help and advocate for undocumented Irish, and the country’s quintessential Irish city, Boston, is a sanctuary city. There are Irish Dreamers as there are Mexican Dreamers.
This week in New York Irish activists held a rally, the “Irish Stand for Justice & Equality,” in solidarity with embattled immigrants in the U.S. A featured speaker at the rally was Aodhan O’Riordan, a member of Ireland’s Parliament, who proclaimed that,
“Our story is one of struggle, of immigration, of seeking decency, refuge, of overcoming discrimination and sectarianism. What Mexicans today are going through … is exactly what we have gone through in the past. The struggles of immigrants to the United States today are the struggles of all Irish men and women. Their fight is ours! To any Irishman that stands with Trump, all I can say to you is that you have completely lost your Irish heart!” (Bruce Bostick, “Irish Americans in New York organize to support immigrants’ rights,” People’s World, March 16, 2017)
Christopher Minster wrote an enlightening article about the San Patricios in ThoughtCo.com (link below).
Here’s a synopsis of Minster’s article, re: Los San Patricios:
The St. Patrick’s Battalion (el Batallón de los San Patricios), led by John Riley, was a Mexican army unit comprised primarily of Irish Catholics (and some German Catholics) who had defected from the U.S. army during the Mexican-American War.
In the mid-1840s there was much Irish immigration to the U.S., due to harsh conditions and famine in Ireland. Thousands of them joined the US army, hoping to obtain US citizenship. Most of them were Catholic. The US army (and US society in general) was at that time very intolerant towards both Irish and Catholics. Irish were seen as lazy and ignorant, while Catholics were considered fools who were easily distracted by pageantry and led by a faraway pope.
These prejudices made life very difficult for Irish in American society at large and particularly in the army. In the army, the Irish were considered inferior soldiers, and chances of promotion were virtually nil, and there was no opportunity for them to attend Catholic services. They were forced to attend protestant services during which Catholicism was often vilified.
The Mexicans offered land and money for anyone who deserted and joined them. In Mexico, Irish defectors were treated as heroes and given the opportunity for promotion denied them in the American army. Many of them felt a greater connection to Mexico: like Ireland, it was a poor Catholic nation.
Los San Patricios made a banner for themselves: a bright green standard with an Irish harp, under which was “Erin go Bragh”(“Ireland Forever”) and the Mexican coat of arms with the words “Libertad por la Republica Mexicana.” On the flip side of the banner was an image of St. Patrick and the words “San Patricio.”
The San Patricios who survived (and who were not executed by the U.S. after the war) re-formed and existed as a unit of the Mexican army for about a year. Many of them remained in Mexico and started families: a handful of Mexicans today can trace their lineage to one of the San Patricios. Those who remained were rewarded by the Mexican government with pensions and the land that had been offered to entice them to defect. Some returned to Ireland. Most, including Riley, vanished into Mexican obscurity.
Today, the San Patricios are considered in Mexico as great heroes who defected because they could not stand to see the Americans bullying a smaller, weaker Catholic nation. They fought not out of fear but out of a sense of righteousness and justice. Every year, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Mexico, particularly in the places where the soldiers were hanged. They have received many honors from the Mexican government, including streets named after them, plaques, postage stamps issued in their honor, etc.
In 1999, a Hollywood movie called “One Man’s Hero” was made about the St. Patrick’s Battalion.
HERE’S THE LINK TO THE ARTICLE:
Copyright 2017 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal Baldenegro write to: firstname.lastname@example.org