St. Patrick's Day today - in this country, at least outside New York (where the St. Patrick's Day parade is the biggest in the country), you wear green, drink beer, so what? But St. Patrick's Day was once a way for Irish immigrants in this country, derided as dirty, dangerous Micks, to stand up for themselves and their culture. These days, Mexican immigrants are on the bottom rung. So there's a nice reminder of how people cycle through this country in the San Patricio recording, released last week, in which the storied Irish folkloric group The Chieftans unite with Mexican musicians including Lila Downs, immigrant champions Los Tigres Del Norte, Chavela Vargas, and many more. It's topped Soundscan's list of both World and Latin music sales.
The record honors the San Patricios, an strange, sad, forgotten chapter of American history. During the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848, a group of mostly Irish soldiers abandoned the U.S. army to join the Mexicans. They were poor, recent immigrants who'd just left a starving country occupied by Protestant England, often recruited right off the boat, Catholics fighting under Protestant officers against another Catholic country. In Mexico they called themselves the St. Patrick's Day Battalion - the San Patricios in Spanish. Many were executed after the war - some of those allowed to live were branded on their cheeks with a "D" for deserter.
What strikes you in this record is the way the musics fits so effortlessly together - the jubilant, high-pitched violin and pennywhistle, the rhythms, the intense sadness and longing for home and happiness that Irish immigrants then, and Mexican immigrants now seek in this country.