It’s St. Patrick’s Day. But as a Latino, maybe you’re not sure what the fuss is all about. Why is everyone obsessed with wearing green, sporting silly hats and drinking Guinness, an alcoholic version of Malta? You figure it’s just a crazy Irish thing.
Well you’re right. St. Patrick’s Day is a major Irish holiday, though Americans have turned it into a big party the same way they’ve made Cinco de Mayo all about Coronas and lime.
So if, as a Latino, you’re having a hard time getting into the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few pointers that will help you get into the swing of things on March 17, and perhaps make the holiday a little more personal for you.
THE IRISH CINCO DE MAYO
St. Patrick’s Day is a Catholic holiday. It celebrates St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, just like La Virgen de Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. These are both Catholic holidays worth celebrating. You don’t have to wear green and drink Guinness to celebrate. You can simply go to church and pay your respects.
In the U.S., St. Patrick’s Day is like the Irish Cinco de Mayo. Think about the stereotypes associated with Cinco de Mayo—people wearing giant sombreros, fake mustaches and ponchos, and the drumming up of Mexican beer. During St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish are portrayed as redheaded leprechauns with silly green hats and shamrocks. What else does a Latino have in common with St. Patrick’s Day? Well, in this country, Irish immigrants were discriminated against in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just like Latin American immigrants and other Latinos are discriminated against today.
The Irish and Mexicans have a common bond worthy of a real celebration. American soldiers from Ireland deserted the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American war (1846-48), to fight on the Mexican side. The group of a few hundred soldiers became known as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, or Batallón de San Patricio, led by John Riley. While the group was mostly made up of Irish immigrants, there were also Italians, Canadians, Poles and Scots in the group. All of them were deserters and Catholics fighting for Mexico.
Read Related: The Irish Influence in Latin America: A Brief History
When the U.S. won the war, many of the members of the Batallón de San Patricio were tried for treason and executed. The 30 men from the battalion, who were hung at Chapultepec in Mexico City, cheered the Mexican flag as they faced the gallows. In Mexico, the men of the Batallón de San Patricio are honored on St. Patrick’s Day and also on September 12—the anniversary of the executions—a day before the Mexican holiday celebrating the Niños Heroes, the six heroic cadets who jumped to their death so as not to surrender the Mexican flag to the Americans.
The relationship between Mexico and the Irish is captured in a brilliant CD by the Irish band The Chieftains titled San Patricio. The album, released in 2010, pays homage to the bond between the Irish and Mexicans and has guest appearances by Carlos Nunez, Moya Brennan and Los Tigres Del Norte. The cover of the album says it all: La Virgen de Guadalupe carrying a wounded redheaded soldier.