By Pablo Rodriguez
Rodríguez is the Executive Director of Communities for a New California (CNC),
Had you ever heard of the St. Patrick’s Battalion? Did you know that thanks to Los San Patricios, you could wear a “Kiss Me I’m an Immigrant” and a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” button with your best green garb on St. Patrick’s Day?
This Saturday, Mexican and Irish artists will gather in Fresno, California to celebrate a strong bond dating back 166 years between Ireland and Mexico. Through traditional song, dance and music, artists will commemorate the Irish immigrant soldiers that formed the St. Patrick’s Battalion and are regarded as heroes, by Mexicans and Irish, of the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846 to 1848.
The concert will benefit the Central Valley Dream Team (CVDT), a Fresno-based organization that fights for equal access to education for undocumented students. The CVDT funds scholarships, provides a network of support, and advocates for a federal DREAM Act, and other pro-immigrant legislation.
About el Batallón de San Patricio:
The battalion’s story begins with Ireland’s potato famine (The Great Hunger: Britain’s genocide by starvation) of the 1840s that took the lives of half of its population. One million Irish set sail to the United States and other countries.
In May 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico and found itself with the need to fill its fighting ranks. In one of the earliest examples of a poverty draft, recently arrived Irish immigrants were enticed to join the army by promises of pay and citizenship: “Be a soldier, earn your pay, and bring your folks to the U.S.A.” Scores of young Catholic Irishmen joined the predominantly Protestant U.S. Army within days of landing in New York.
Not long after crossing the Rio Grande, a group of Irish immigrant conscripts began questioning the virtue of war against Mexico. They started to see war as an arbitrary use of force and an unjust land grab. Facing ethnic and immigrant discrimination by their mostly Anglo-Protestant commanders, hundreds of soldiers defected and formed the St. Patrick’s Battalion under the leadership of John Riley. They fought bravely, with many losing their lives, for the Mexican people they shared a common religion and cultural experience with.
As a result, both Mexico and Ireland issued postage stamps commemorating Los San Patricios. There is a statue of Jon Riley in his hometown of Clifden, Ireland, a gift from Mexico to Ireland. In 1959, the Mexican government dedicated a commemorative plaque to Los San Patricios in San Angel just outside of Mexico City. The plaque lists the names of the battalion of immigrants who lost their lives in battle and execution.
The Spirit of Los San Patricios Today
I’m confident that if the DREAM Act passes in states like California, Illinois, and Maryland, a federal DREAM Act will foster an entire generation of students that positively impact our country. I’m repeatedly taken aback by the ability of undocumented students to overcome obstacles they face in their lives. I marvel at the character it takes to be able to transform those experiences into sources of strength and pride. Their challenging life experiences are only surpassed by their willingness and desire to learn. Their fluency, often in Spanish and English, and sometimes other languages, allow them to move confidently between cultures, articulating our community’s needs and advocating for change.
This Saturday, make your way to Fresno and celebrate Los San Patricios with the Central Valley DREAM Team. If you can’t make it to Fresno, raise a glass as you sing a joyous song with friends. Toast to the spirit galvanized by struggle. Toast to the immigrant aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the St. Patrick’s Battalion. Give a shout out loud: “Que Vivan Los San Patricios!”