Friday, January 01, 2010

mexi-irish rose -- part ii

The American army was small when the war began. Without new recruits, the Americans had no chance of defeating the Mexican defenders.

The army found a receptive group of recruits in newly-arrived immigrants from Ireland and Germany -- some with experience in European wars. Most were Catholics and had entered the war to escape a deep recession and religious discrimination in their new home.

That proved to be a mistake. Catholic soldiers received harsher punishment for military violations than their fellow Protestants -- a prejudice born of a nativist movement that swept The States in the 1840s.

The Mexican generals were experts at playing to the aggrieved Catholic soldiers, They distributed fliers pointing out that Mexicans were their co-religionists, and offered both land and the possibility of officer commissions to any soldier that who would desert and fight for Mexico -- something the immigrants could not expect to attain from the American army.

It worked. Enough German and Irish recruits deserted to form a full battalion -- the San Patricio Battalion. And not just any battalion. They formed an artillery battalion, partially armed with captured American guns.

The battalion made a big difference in several battles -- inflicting severe casualties on their former American colleagues. But the war went from disaster to disaster for the Mexican forces until the Mexican people refused to support General Santa Anna any further.

Mexico lost almost 60% of its territory as a result of the war. The San Patricio Battalion would suffer a worse fate. Of those who were captured, 46 were hanged and 15 were whipped and branded.

There is evidence that some members of the battalion escaped and received their promised land in Mexico. But none of that answers the question whether San Patricio (the village) was involved in any way related to the San Patricio Battalion.

I talked with a local official in San Patricio who told me he believed there was a connection -- for the same reason he believed in the authenticity of the Guadalupe cloak. He just did.

As he put it: "You don't understand the mystery of Mexico. Thinking about this simply destroys its beauty. Myth is true. Facts are lies. If you want it to be true -- it is."

I can appreciate the utility of myth. But I am a product of the Enlightenment. I need to see proof before I will believe.

Where does that leave me?

I am going to continue my search as long as I remain in Mexico. Even if the answer is simply that there is no answer. I can live with that.

Hercule Poirot or not.


Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Steve,

It was great seeing you on Wednesday. Glad you got to meet my guys. Have a safe trip home.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great story. Bob

Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- It was good to see you again -- and to meet the guys.

Bob -- Thanks. It helps to explain a bit about American-Mexican relations.

Leslie Harris said...

Would I qualify as a Mexi-Irish rose? My maternal grandfather was Irish and my maternal grandmother is Mexican! :D

Happy New Year, Steve!

Jonna said...

That is a great synopsis of the time, a fascinating era and one that I also think has done much to shape the relationship between these 2 countries.

I have to laugh at you saying you need proof to believe however, this from someone who admits to believing in a lot that can never be proven.

1st Mate said...

I think you could track down an answer to your question of whether there's a connection. You're talking about history, not myth. In fact, why else would an Irish saint be chosen as the patron of a Mexican village? Dig deeper.

Steve Cotton said...

Leslie -- Indeed you do qualify. And you are certainly a rose.

Jonna -- Thanks. We sometimes forget that Mexico and America were well-matched in size. But never again after 1848.

Whem I wrote the line about my lawyerly demand for proof, I was going to point out the appareant contradiction in my life. I do not see it as a contradiction, but merely one of the complexities of life. I may have a postmodern Enlightenment-besotted brain, but I am not a skeptic. After all, how would we ever prove the unconditional love of our dogs?

ist Mate -- I will continue as far as I can go. Like you, I keep thinking there must be some connection. Why an Irish saint?

Calypso said...

Appreciate the history lesson amigo - muy bueno.

Anonymous said...

I've always been fascinated by this story my whole life. My parents are both from Ireland and I grew up in a Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles. This subject was brought up often.

I'll have to make a stop in San Patricio on my next trip down through you area.

John in LA

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- Happy to share.

John -- Stop on by, but don't count on any facts.

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