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The St. Patrick’s Battalion: Faith in Action

from the March 16, 2022 Bulletin

international solidarity Mexico-US history

Some four decades ago, in the jungles of Chiapas, Bruce Hobson trained Guatemalan refugees in orthopedic diagnosis and rehab. A few years later, the Zapatista uprising erupted in 1994, and Bruce would soon bear the distinction of becoming a deportado from México! The Mexican government deported him, charging that his work amounted to “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 calls the historic central Mexican city of Guanajuato his home.


In 1846, the US invaded México. Do you see comparisons to the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia?

Yes. The actions of Russia as it attempts to annex more and more territory must be condemned as a blatant violation of the right of a country to self-determination. Imperialist expansion also drove the 1846 US invasion of México. Top US leaders stood determined to expand their domain across the entire continent, “from sea to shining sea.” But the Southwest all belonged to México — and had been part of México long before the United States even existed.


As a first step toward gaining the Southwest, the US annexed Tejas in México, and then, when México refused to sell the rest of its Southwest territory, the US made war to take it by force.


Large numbers of immigrants from Ireland had arrived in the US just before the war started, and many found themselves conscripted into the US cavalry. What did they find when they reached México?


Two things led to the roughly one million Irish emigrating to America from the 1840s through the 1860s. The first: their impoverishment, after the loss of their land under British colonial rule. The second: the Potato Blight, the famine that left a million people starved to death. The British landlords exported crops even during the famine. Irish farmers, in other words, suffered from an oppression similar to what Mexicans experienced under Spanish rule.

The Irish immigrant soldiers in the US army began to understand, as they moved south deep into México, that they were invading a country that had done the US no wrong — and whose people culturally were much like them.

Celtic Life International

The Mexican villages reminded the Irish soldiers of their own villages. Mexican peasants were poor, as were their families. The Mexicans were Catholic, as were they. The profound connections the Irish made with the peasants they met eventually led them to tear off their uniforms and join the Mexican side.

What happened to the San Patricios?


The US won the war in short order. The San Patricios, captured in Mexico City, would be 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 cheek. México has memorialized these Irish patriots who gave up their lives in opposition to an unjust war.


Unfortunately, many in México today know little about this history. In 1992, the criminal Salinas regime made Education Secretary Ernesto Zedillo approve the removal of all “anti-American” references in 4th and 5th grade history textbooks throughout the country. In one fell swoop, Zapata no longer appeared as a revolutionary hero. The San Patricios did not exist. In response, tens of thousands of teachers struck, refusing to teach.


As someone with Irish-American roots, why do you see solidarity with México as so important?

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. We started talking, and
my left political background intrigued him, and I was fascinated by his deep knowledge of US and Mexican history. I asked him if he knew about the San Patricios. The man, nearly crying, told me the San Patricios gave proof that the US had citizens who believed in justice. The San Patricios, we agreed, represent the finest in the tradition of international solidarity.

Just as the
San Patricios recognized the fight of the Mexican people as their own fight, we need to do the same today. We need to be San Patricios.