Irish in Mexico and Latin AmericaMonday, March 12th, 2012
Did you know that the Irish in Mexico have a long and fascinating history? Few Americans are aware of the Irish-Mexican population.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, a bit of this story seems appropriate. Between green beer and shamrocks enjoy this brief summary of the Irish in Mexico.
Irish in Mexico – The 1800s
Many Irish-Mexicans found themselves in Mexico by way of the United States. More than one million poor Irish Catholic immigrated to the United States and Canada between 1840 and 1850. Upon arriving on new shores, Irish immigrants struggled to find employment. This was depicted in the infamous shop window signs stating, “No Irish Need Apply.”
When the Mexican-American war broke out in 1846, many Irish immigrants were offered citizenship and land in return for fighting in the war. The American army did not provide a Catholic chaplain or Catholic mass service as the majority of American soldiers at that time were Protestant.
Feeling belittled and beleaguered, many Irish soldiers deserted, joining their fellow Catholics on the other side of the Rio Grande (or the Rio Bravo, as it is known in Latin America). After the war ended in 1848, most of the Irish in Mexico were considered deserters by the U.S. government. Many were hanged.
The Irish in Mexico Today
The Irish immigrants have had a lasting impact in Mexico. Today, most towns in Mexico have a street named Obregón or O’Brien. The Irish soldiers who fought for the Mexican army are remembered as heroes and martyrs, and are known as “Los San Patricios.”
Today, there are many Mexicans of Irish descent, many with surnames like Bay, Foley and O’Leary. Notable Mexicans of Irish descent include Álvaro Obregón, the president of Mexico from 1920-1924. Obregón’s surname is believed to have been changed from O’Brien. The famed Mexican actor Anthony Quinn was half Irish; his mother was of Aztec ancestry and his father was an Irish immigrant from County Cork.
The Irish Diaspora in Latin America does not involve only the Irish in Mexico; the much beloved founding father of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins, was of Irish and Spanish descent. The famous Irish-born Argentine admiral, William Brown, was the creator of the Argentine Navy and leader of the Argentine Armed Forces.
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