I have always enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day because I like corned beef and Shamrock Shakes, however it meant anything more than that. However two and a half years ago I learned that I am part Irish, from my father’s predominately Hispanic side. His maternal grandfather was half (along with half Navajo, but that’s beside the point), but my dad had no idea despite having grown up with him. My grandma randomly brought this up, and while it surprised me it makes perfect sense. My paternal family has lived in what is now New Mexico (NOT MEXICO, NOT MEXICO YOU GOT THAT?!?!) for around eight generations, having come from primarily Spain before that. New Mexico has a notable Irish community, many of them came from NYC looking for more greener (figuratively), more Catholic friendly, pastures. Most noted of the early Hiberno-Nuevomexicanos was Billy the Kid. His mother thought leaving New York would save him from death as a petty street gangster, yet ironically the move resulted in him dying as one of the most illustrious outlaws in American folklore. I know nothing of my Irish ancestors before or after they moved to the Southwest, but watching Gangs of New York gives me some idea to what it may like for them before they packed up. My great grandfather spoke no English, only Spanish. Of course Irish Gaelic was Ireland’s main language into the nineteenth century and those Irish who went to NM were trying to escape those dirty Prod Anglos, so they probably had little attachment to the English language.
Hispanic and Irish are not mutually exclusive. In fact, Hispanic is a linguistic term (not a racial one) that is far more inclusive than many think. Argentina has its Italians, Costa Rica has its Jamaicans, Peru has its Japanese, Panama has its Chinese, Chile has its Germans, Mexico has its Lebanese, and Irish are to be found all over. Chile’s first President was named Bernardo O’Higgins. Che Guevara, perhaps the most iconic Latin American of all, had an Irish father and the birth name Ernest Lynch. He viewed himself as being part of a tradition of Irish rebels who fight against empire, and now the ironic icon is immortalized in murals from Bogota to Belfast. Billy the Kid is no one to be proud of, O’Higgins is in the shadow of Bolivar and San Martin, and Guevara outright polarizing. Still they show that the Irish have made lasting impressions in Hispanophone areas.
St. Patrick’s Day is all about cultural identity. I am only a sixteenth Irish and that has zero impact on my day to day life, but knowing that bit of trivia has greatly enriched my sense of cultural identity.