It’s not just Irish eyes that’ll be smiling today.
For some Latinos, St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to trade in the tequila and chorizo for Guinness and corned beef and hash. Some have come to see the day as a celebration of their commonalities with the immigrant struggles and values of their Emerald Isle compatriots. Others have their own Irish background, or are in the habit of celebrating the saint’s day back home, where he’s known as San Patricio. And some—well, they just like a good party.
“I’ve been looking for one of those T-shirts that says ‘Kiss Me, I’m Mexican,” said Rubén Díaz, 32, a Denver computer security analyst who missed the city’s parade last weekend—but joined the hundreds of people who crowded into the city’s pubs. “I think we Latinos see a lot of similarities with the Irish in that we’ve had the same struggles coming over here. Many of us are Catholics like them, and we’re all fiercely loyal to our family values.”
Despite having a historically small Irish community, the city of Denver hosts one of the larger St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations in the country. One of the parade’s most popular entries in recent years: Sambos Illimani Colorado, a group of dancers from Bolivia, where San Patricio is an important saint. Meanwhile, this year’s parade queen was half Irish, half Latina, and fluent in Spanish, according to Diann LaGrange, one of its organizers.
St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been an American holiday – the first celebrations were in New York City in the 1700s. But the Irish and their influence extend further into the Americas.
“While Irish came to the United States in droves at one time, we should also note that around 90,000 immigrated to Mexico,” says Texas author and ethnic marketing specialist Jim Estrada.
Of particular note: The San Patricios, Mexico’s “Fighting Irish,” a group of Irish-immigrant soldiers who switched sides and fought with Mexico in the Mexican-American War because of their discontent with U.S. expansionist policy and its treatment of immigrants.
Today, mariachis and a group of charros known as Los San Patricios de Arizona parade through downtown Phoenix for that city’s St. Patrick’s Day observance. Mexico City, which has a small memorial to the Patricios, holds its own St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
And the descendants of these immigrants are still among us. Columnist Esther J. Cepeda wrote that more than 1.5 million Mexicans claimed Irish descent – the fifth largest group behind Ireland, the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Nineteenth century Mexican president Alvaro Obregón Salido had an O’Brien in his past. Che Guevara’s paternal grandfather was an Irishman, it turns out. Newscaster Soledad O’Brien’s name speaks for itself.
Marco Fernández, national coordinator for Sambos, says other troupes in his organization have taken part in March 17 celebrations on the East Coast and West Coast.
“This is a positive sign that everyone can get together and celebrate not just one specific culture but many,” he says.
Manny Gonzales is a Denver-based writer and communications specialist.