(The following op-ed appeared in the Dec. 1-7 issue of the Irish Echo newspaper.)
By T.J. English
Irish Americans and the Mexican people are attached at the hip.
In many ways, the template laid down by Irish immigrants in the 19th Century is today being played out by Mexican Americans. In the wake of famine and poverty, waves of Irish immigrants came by sea in search of opportunity. Today, Mexicans also flee poverty, but there is another factor instigating the migration – an infernal Narco War that, in recent years, has unleashed a wave of violence and death that makes the Irish Troubles of the 1970s and 80s look like a Sunday school mash-up.
For generations, the Irish and Mexican people have often sought solace and refuge in their faith. The Catholic Church has been a source of inspiration – and a placebo – for those who have suffered under the yoke of colonialism, internal political conflict, and violent bloodletting as a seemingly natural course of event. Along with their faith, these two cultures — separated by a continent and with distinctly different indigenous histories – have nonetheless developed similar defense mechanisms. The Irish and Mexican people are social people. The hardships of daily life are counter posed through music, drink and conversation.
The power of social interaction can be a point of empathy and solidarity. It is this power that we hope to harness on December 8, 2010 with THE IRISH-MEXICAN ALLIANCE, a multi-cultural evening of music, poetry and talk that is being sponsored by the non-profit group Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc. (IAW&A).
A strong line-up of speakers and entertainers will be on hand, including Pete Hamill, the iconic NYC journalist who has lived in Mexico and writes often of his bond with the place; Rubén Blades, the legendary Panama-born salsa singer, actor, and former Minister of Culture in Panama; New York-area bands Celtic Cross and Joe Hurley’s Rogues March; Larry Kirwan of Black 47; and, direct from the borderland of El Paso, Texas, Frontera Bugalú, a Tex-Mex cumbia band that is guaranteed to have booties shaking at Klub 45, upstairs at Connolly’s Pub, where the event is being held.
The proceeds from the evening will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a venerable organization that is seeking to call attention to and provide legal assistance for Mexican journalists who have been killed, intimidated and forced to seek political asylum in the U.S. for doing their job, i.e. reporting on the Narco War in Mexico.
The issue of journalists being killed and threatened by drug cartels and also members of the Mexican military police is an ugly sub-theme of Mexico’s Narco War, which in the last three years has resulted to close to 30,000 narco-related murders in the country. What is happening in Mexico is complicated and multi-layered, a full-scale break down of society due to a joint U.S.-Mexican government strategy of all-out war with the cartels that oversee the narco trade.
One factor is not complicated: overwhelmingly, the marketplace for the cartels’ product – cocaine, marijuana and crystal meth – is the United States of America.
Last summer, I was in the borderland area of Ciudad Juárez-El Paso investigating an article on the Narco War that will appear in the February issue of Playboy magazine. I saw up close the social disintegration that is taking place. The city of Juárez reminded me of Belfast and Derry during the years of military occupation in the 1980s, with caravans of military vehicles rumbling through the streets and armed soldiers on nearly every corner. Extortion of local businesses by gangsters is commonplace, and the threat of death is ever-present. Murder victims are often beheaded, their mutilated corpses displayed in the town square with notes of intimidation from narco gangsters pinned to their chests.
Newspaper and television reporters and photo-journalists attempting to investigate the situation become collateral damage, or are sometimes the primary targets of narcotraficantes, who are sometimes in cahoots with corrupt officials in the Mexican and U.S. governments.
As a collective of writers, actors, musicians and other artists, we at IAW&A care deeply about issues of freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of expression — issues that are at the core of any functioning democracy.
With THE IRISH-MEXICAN ALLIANCE, a night of music and speeches, we also hope to harness the historical bond between the Irish and Mexican people. It began 160 years ago with the formation of the San Patricio Battalion, a brigade of mostly Irish American immigrants who fought on behalf of the Mexican people in the U.S.-Mexico war of 1845-46. Earlier this year, the legendary Irish music group The Chieftains paid tribute to this history with the release of their fine CD, San Patricio.
The historical connection flourished again in 1967-68 when Robert F. Kennedy, during his presidential campaign, formed an alliance with César Chávez, organizer of Mexican migrant workers in California who were seeking fairness and civil rights for common laborers.
The Irish-Mexican Alliance is not just a slogan; it is real. Please join us as we invoke the spirit of the San Patricios, Robert Kennedy and César Chávez while attempting to raise money for the Committee to Protect Journalists, all in hopes of calling attention to the horror that is taking place across the U.S. border in Mexico.
T.J. English, author of The Westies, Paddy Whacked and other books, will serve as host of THE IRISH-MEXICAN ALLIANCE, to be held December 8, 2010, Wednesday, at Connolly Pub, 121 W. 45th Street, Manhattan, from 7-11pm. Price: $30 (suggested donation).