Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Celebrando Saint Patrick with a Commemoration of Los Patricios

On this day of a multinational celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, we are taking a moment to share a piece of overlooked American history that links our Latino heritage to that of the Irish immigrants in this country.

During the Mexican-American War, Irish, German and other immigrants deserted the US Army to fight on behalf of Mexico.  The San Patricios, as they were known, became the war’s unlikely heroes.  Their deeds and valor are celebrated by Mexico to this day

The Mexican-American War, which was fought between 1846 and 1848, saw the largest rate of desertion rate of any foreign war fought by our country.  While there are many reasons for these soldiers willingness to switch sides during the conflict, such as better pay and the promise of land, often cited as the most likely reasons were the bitter sentiments in this country against Irish immigrants and a strong anti-Catholic bias in the army.  Playing to these injustices, the Mexican government waged an active campaign to convince these immigrant soldiers of the reasons they should forsake the US.

A handbill from the time distributed by Mexican officers stated:

“Irishmen! Listen to the words of your brothers, hear the accents of Catholic people . . . Is religion no longer the strongest of human bonds? . . . Can you fight by the side of those who set fire to your temples in Boston and Philadelphia? Are Catholic Irishmen to be the destroyers of Catholic temples, the murderers of Catholic priests . . ? Come over to us; you will be received under the laws of that truly Christian hospitality and good faith which Irish guests are entitled to expect and obtain from a Catholic nation . . .May Mexicans and Irishmen, united by the sacred tie of religion and benevolence, form only one people.”

Unfortunately, for the San Patricios, Mexico lost the war, and the deserters were arrested with most facing court martial.  Roughly half of them were executed.  Those who were not were horsewhipped, branded with a “D” on their faces and drummed out of the army in shame.

Now “Los Colorados”, the redheaded Irishmen of the San Patrick Battalion, are a part of a forgotten saga of America’s immigrant past.  Previously overlooked in their native land, 150 years after most of them perished, Mexico and Ireland joined together to commemorate their shared history as brought together by the United States.

Viva San Carlos

Latin American Studies/LA Times September 1997