Friday, March 18, 2011

Eighth day of Lent: Vivan los san patricios


St. Patrick’s Day. The most sunny, warm, nearly perfect day of the year so far. 
Steps almost empty today. Just a black plastic knife. But Amsterdam Avenue is awash with a steady stream of people in green returning from the parade on Fifth Avenue. The pubs south of 86th are overflowing onto the sidewalks. A bus pulls up in front of the Dead Poet, (the place Amanda calls the office, much good work done there) emptying out a band of pipers in green plaid kilts. 

One block down 86th from the  church, in Euclid Hall, the home of the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, (yes, birthed at West-Park)is the Parlour.     More than an Irish pub, it’s a Celtic bar. That is, a home for the New York fans of the Scottish Glascgow Celtics, the traditional Catholic football club and arch rival of the Protestant fan based Rangers, though both teams are filled with all kinds of international players. Green and white striped Celtic jerseys fill the walls. While other neighborhood pubs are showing the NCAA March madness, the big screen here has English Premier Football. Right across the street from SPSA, it’s been a good place for church gatherings when we had no place of our own. I order a Magner’s Irish Cider, for Amanda, watch Kentucky’s last second win over Princeton on one of the smaller screens.
I’m thinking today of the San Patricio Battalion. That group of several hundred mainly Irish but also German and Scots draftees in the Mexican War of 1846-48 led by Captain John Riley. When they got to Mexico they looked around and said, wait, they’re Christians, we’re Christians. They’re Catholics, we’re Catholics. They’re poor, we’re poor. It’s their land, not ours. We’re on the wrong side here. So  after refusing to shoot at the Mexicans, they switched sides. 
After defeat by the US army, most of the  captured san patricios were tried by military tribunal, without defense, and hung, in violation of the Articles of War.  In Mexico, los san patricios are remembered as heroes.  Streets named, statues. The Mexican  name Obregon is a latinazation of the Irish O’Brien. But in the US, the story remained buried for centuries. 
Each Easter morning, West-Park gathers  in Central Park at the site of the All Angels Church in Seneca Village, the community of African-American, Irish and German immigrants there before Central Park. We gather there because All Angels was a multicultural church and we honor that heritage. Their story, too, was buried. Given the draft laws of the day, who knows if Irish immigrants from Seneca Village may have been among the san patricios.
Here’s a promise....if we’re still here a year from now, I’ll invite  El Taller to join us and  do a concert of Irish and Mexican music in honor  of los san patricios. And maybe go to Gabriela’s for corned beef and cabbage burritos after.
Vivan los san patricios.

Now the army used us harshly
We were but trash to them
Conscripted Irish soldiers
Not first class soldier men
They beat us and they banged us 
Mistreated us you know
But they couldn’t make us killers in the sands of Mexico.
Our John Riley seized the day 
And marched us down the road
And we wouldn’t slay our brothers
On the sands of Mexico.

Ry Cooder
San Patricio

No comments:

Post a Comment