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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

San Patricios, Irish-American Mexican Heroes

from the March 17, 2021 Bulletin

Mexico-US history

In the 1970s Bruce Hobson found himself deeply influenced by community college co-workers who had been Brown Berets in the revolutionary Chicano movement. Bruce would go on, in the 1980s, to work at a villager-run health program in the mountains of western México where he served disabled children and their families. The UN refugee commission in Chiapas later hired Bruce to train Guatemalan refugees in orthopedic diagnosis and rehab. But then, after the Zapatista uprising in 1994, the Mexican government deported him, declaring his work “a front for gathering international support” for the Zapatista Army. A member of Liberation Road and a co-editor and translator for the México Solidarity Bulletin, Bruce now lives and celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in Guanajuato, México.


Irish-American workers often get stereotyped as racists. But how did Irish immigrants react when the United States invaded Mexico in 1846?


The US was determined to expand across the whole continent, “from sea to shining sea.” But the southwest belonged to México. So first the US annexed Tejas, México, and then, when México refused to sell its territory, the US made war to take it by force.


Irish immigrants, conscripted into the US cavalry, became part of the invading army. They came to be known as the Batallón de San Patricio, the Saint Patrick’s Battalion.  These Irish soldiers rode south deep into México. The deeper they rode, the more they understood they were invading a country that had done the US no wrong. The Mexican villages they rode into reminded them of their own villages. The Mexican peasants seemed just as poor, and they practiced the same Catholic religion as the Irish. Under the leadership of John O’Reilly, the San Patricios would forge profound connections with the peasants, connections strong enough for the Irish to tear off their uniforms and join the Mexican side.

What conditions of life in Ireland caused these men to leave their homes?


Two things led to the roughly one million Irish emigrating to America from the 1840s through the 1860s. The first — the Potato Blight and famine — had a million people starving to death. The other would be the inhumane actions of the British landlords. They didn't just dispossess the Irish farmers. They continued to export food crops, for their own profit, even after the mass starvation had begun!


What happened to the San Patricios?


The US won the war in short order. When the Battalion was captured in México City, the San Patricios were tried by the US Army. Fifty were hanged in the largest — official — mass execution in US history, others flogged and branded with a “D” for deserter on their cheeks. But México has not forgotten that these San Patricios gave up their lives in opposition to an unjust war.


As someone with Irish-American roots, what makes solidarity with México so important to you?


Let me tell a story. Riding the bus in México City a few decades ago, I found myself sitting next to an older man dressed in a worn suit. He was intrigued by my left background, and I was fascinated by his knowledge of US and Mexican history. When he asked if I knew about the San Patricios, my eyes lit up. We both had been inspired by their actions. Nearly crying, the man told me that the San Patricios amounted to proof that the US had citizens who believed in justice.


Today, look at the Irish-American workers who have lost manufacturing jobs to NAFTA. They have plenty in common with workers in Mexican maquiladoras who do the jobs they used to do, for a fraction of the wage that they had been paid in the US. The San Patricios recognized the fight of the Mexican people as their own fight. We need to do the same. We need to be San Patricios.