This year, though, St. Patrick's Day has a special meaning. Not only because I've now been to Ireland and have heartstrings-attachment that isn't just a faraway 'someday...' wish to visit this ancestral homeland. Today my belly is filled with corned beef and cabbage (well, a bit of a mix of this traditional Irish food and the proper New England boiled dinner I was raised with...), and I'm thinking about the St. Patrick's Day celebrations today in Mexico.
What's Mexico have to do with St. Patrick's Day?! Well...
Only a week after giving a Travel Talk on Ireland at Sovversiva Open Space, sharing stories and images of medicinal plants and wild foods (like seaweed!), urban gardens, the Famine/Starvation, and Sheela Na Gig from my various trips to the island, my compañerxs were in the Vermont statehouse, testifying and speaking out against injustice. Grassroots community organizations have fought for an anti-biased policing policy by the VT State Police. Though many communities are targeted and racially profiled, the group I'm most connected with is Migrant Justice, a grassroots organization of migrant farm workers in VT, and their allies. (The majority of migrant farm workers living in Vermont are originally from Mexico, with smaller numbers hailing from Guatemala and other countries.) Despite the anti-biased policing policy, law enforcement officers continue to racially profile people of color - and continue to call Border Patrol when they stop people that they assume are undocumentated.
I've often heard people claim that their family came to the US "the right way," whether that was in this lifetime or many generations ago, and that other immigrants should "get in line. (For more on this myth: here and here and here and the image here) At a hearing addressing discrimination and bias a VT Representative asked a Latino speaker if he was a US citizen, after he *didn't* ask this of a previous white speaker from the same organization. Another VT Representative claimed that he was part of the Irish community and basically said that they are all documented.
Well, I'm not going to delve deep into Irish history, but I would like to recommend the film The Wind the Shakes the Barley to understand a bit about the British occupation of Ireland and the people's resistance. I'd also like to recommend the book Famine Diary: Journey to a New World by James J. Mangan/Gerald Keegan for a personal account about the very intentional starvation of the Irish people by the British government/landlords, who stockpiled food and sent ships full of food to England while the people starved, were incarcerated in huge numbers, or were forced to flee the island. The Irish that crossed the Atlantic and survived the journey, found more discrimination. The NINA (No Irish Need Apply) sign below is just one example:
Multiple times when I've been in Ireland, I've noticed a strong affinity and sense of solidarity with the people of Palestine. This photo was taken in a Dublin pub, of the Irish and Palestinian flag hung side by side:
I didn't know until recently about the history of solidarity between the people of Ireland and Mexico as well...
Mexican music by St. Patrick's Battalion Pipes & Drums
"Banda de Gaitas del Batallon de San Patricio"
When I've been in Ireland and spoken with people about Migrant Justice, I've been told by people there that they have sons or cousins or other loved ones that are in the US without documentation. Though they may be less targeted because Irish people tend to blend in with the racist idea of what a US American looks like and who "belongs" here (read: white), still people without documentation are forced to live with the constant stress of being deported and being unable to visit loved ones back home for fear of not being able to re-enter the US. More about the 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the US here in "America's New Irish Immigrants."
While mainstream "honoring" of St. Patrick's Day often looks like wearing loads of green plastic and getting drunk, I'm reflecting on solidarity across oceans and human-made borders. I'm grateful for all those who have resisted colonization and questioned racist ideas of who the enemy and scapegoat is. To honor my ancestors and their struggles, learning more about how they were received and later the privileges they were given and we still are given, as well as what we lost, I'm standing in solidarity for racial and immigrant justice within what is now known as the US and beyond. As descendants of those who survived - whether it was crossing the ocean, a desert, mountains, or being from this land since the beginning (and I'm not talking about 1492 or 1776!) - we owe it to each other to end the cycle of dehumanization and work for the rights of all peoples.
For more info about Ireland and (im)migration, please see:
(Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?!