San Patricio by The Chieftains, featuring Ry Cooder
By Luis J. Rodriguez
The Chieftains are an Irish roots-folk band that has also found cultural, social, and musical links to the people and music of Mexico. “San Patricio,” their latest CD, recorded with US recording artist, Ry Cooder, features some of Mexico’s leading musical talents (and US-born Mexicans) like Lila Downs, Los Folkloristas, Linda Ronstadt, Los Cenzontles, Los Tigres del Norte, Chavela Vargas, La Negra Graciana, and Mariachi Santa Fe de Jesus Guzman, to name a few.
The CD title comes from a small band of Irish Americans in the US army during the invasion of Mexico from 1846 to 1848. When these recent immigrants reached the border, they saw the injustices and cruelty of the war. They also connected to the poor largely Native and Catholic peoples that were the “enemy” and decided they were fighting on the wrong side. Many of these conscripts had recently fled Ireland due to the potato famine, orchestrated by their own imperial power, the English.
In the end, the battalion lost along with the Mexicans, although purportedly never surrendering, fighting until their last bullet. A few were branded on their cheeks with “D,” for deserters. The rest were sent to the gallows.
Today the brave story of these Irish heroes is largely forgotten in the United States, often footnoting them as traitors in history texts, if at all. Although Mexicans and many Irish still honor the spirit of the San Patricios—The Saint Patricks—it’s time the US gave them their proper due and respect.
Most songs in the CD start out decidedly Mexican, but then you hear the Irish fiddle, strums, bass, and drums, and, interestingly, the music aligns, seems to be of a whole, is not as disparate or out-of-time as one would imagine. Perhaps, as I’ve often surmised, the Irish are one of the lost tribes of the Mexikas (the so-called Aztecs who migrated from present-day US Southwest to Tenochtitlan, similar to the tribes of Israel on their journey to Canaan).
And the poster of La Virgin de Guadalupe cradling a dead San Patricio combatant crosses all borders—national, ethnic, and religious.
Across thousands of miles, with similar histories and principles, the Irish and the Mexicans found themselves on the American continent, a reminder that people who long for freedom, for their voices and their stories, eventually end up on the same terrain of the dismissed, used, misused, and lied to. This is proof that music is the great liberator in all cultures and that no peoples are truly conquered if they can still sing.
RRC contributing editor Luis J. Rodriguez is the author of several books, including Always Running, The Republic of East LA, and Music of the Mill. For more, check out www.luisjrodriguez.com.
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