Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day:

As a descendant of Irish immigrants, I always wonder how many of the people dressed in green and drinking beer today have ever looked at the history of Irish emigration. Irish people were driven out of their homeland by the English colonization of Ireland, subsequent linguistic and religious persection, the famine, and poverty.

Once in the US, some small number of these Irish immigrants made a choice based on their faith and their love for justice, not on nationality. I thought I'd share a story of common cause and allyship, the story of Saint Patrick's Brigade.

Saint Patrick's Battalion: Tyranny, Treason and the American Mexican War

Many Irish immigrants faced discrimination in the United States of the mid to late 1800s. Signs of the time stated "No Irish or Dogs", we were seen as less than human, uneducated, dirty and prone to being disloyal due to our "allegiance" to the Pope.

The US government began to recruit and forcibly conscript recently arrived immigrants into the US army as the American-Mexican War began to heat up. As the recent immigrants marched upon Mexico with the US army they were treated poorly by the citizen members of the army and they began to discuss amongst themselves whether they belonged on the American or Mexican side of the war. They noticed some common cause with the Mexicans they met:

  • Anglo Saxon Protestant controlled countries attacking Catholic countries in order to gain their land

  • The mistreatment by the US and English armies of the Irish and Mexican populaces post-victory

  • Shared cultural alienation

Over 200 of them deserted the US army, formed St. Patrick's Brigade and enlisted with the Mexican Army. Joining them were also handfuls of Canadians, English, French, Italians, Poles, Scots, Spaniards, Swiss and African Americans who had escaped slavery. Not being able to directly battle the oppression these groups suffered in their homelands, they joined with the Mexican cause to battle a similar oppression here.

The story of Saint Patrick's Brigade is unsung here in the US, where they were considered traitors and those which were caught, were hung. In Mexico, the story is more well-known.

A New York Times Editorial today marks their story. And these two YouTube videos do the same:

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