NOTES ON THE IRISH/MEXICAN FRONTIER
by Ernest Hogan
A lot of people have a hard enough time dealing with the complicated reality of Mexican Americans – when you add Irish to the mix, their brains start to overheat.
Back when I was going to college in the Seventies, all the background forms had an “ethnicity” box that said Hispanic (Spanish surname only). Not allowing me to be a state-recognized Hispanic left me with no box to check. So I decided to randomly pick an ethnicity every time I had to fill out a form. I was black, white, Asian, Native American . . . never mess with an Aztec leprechaun.
My Irish name and Southern California accent causes people assume that I’m black, Arab, or “you’re so smart – I thought you were Jewish.” I’ve even been called “white” on Indian reservations.
For me, my mom fixing corn beef and cabbage on St. Patricks day was as normal as tacos. And the fact that my family’s killer Mexican beans recipe was invented by an Irishman never disturbed me. It’s the mestizo bruja brew I came out of.
I guess it depends on the accent whether it’s La Llorona or the Banshee crying in the night.
It’s all the result of a Irishman named Michael Hogan, who jumped ship in San Francisco and wound up in New Mexico in the time of Billy the Kid. He supposedly rode in a posse after the Kid, and some of my ancestors testified at the trial.
Billy was also Irish. He had a Mexican girlfriend. He was killed in a barrio, and his last words were in Spanish.
These sorts of things happened in New Mexico, like the Spanish throwing around their DNA in Mexico. So we end up with a world with Irish-looking folks who speak Spanish, and Mexican-looking folks with Irish names. Sometimes they’re in the same family. And it’s not as rare as a lot of people think.
Case in point: the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, or Los San Patricos – Irishmen, who were in the United States Army when the Mexican American War was declared back in 1846. Horrified that they would have to fight their fellow Catholics, they deserted and joined the Mexican army. The Irish tend to do such things.
People have long asked me if I was descended from someone in the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. Since the Mexican American War was long before Michael Hogan jumped ship, I would say no. But recently I found out about a book called The Irish Soldiers of Mexico, by a descendant of one of those Irish soldiers. His name is Michael Hogan.
I contacted him, and asked if his family came from Cork, Ireland – my ancestor was involved in the founding of Cork, New Mexico (later re-named Truth or Consequences). He said, yes, they did.
Unfortunately, trying to find documentation on this won’t be easy. My family never has been great on keeping records. Grandpa Hogan always claimed that the church with his birth certificate burned down.
Of course, this has made me a life-long impurist. I don’t go along with the idea of “Puro Mexicano.” “Mexicans” didn’t exist until the illegal aliens arrived from Spain. The Mexica (Aztecs) were just one of many native tribes. And they were mestizo – “mixed” – add more to the mix, and you become more mestizo, not less.
Who knows where this will lead? Latinos who practice Santeria now use St. Patrick’s Day to honor Damballah, the African god associated with serpents. Could we soon see Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, decked out in green?