Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator

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Many years ago, my mom took me to Mexico City from her hometown of San Luis Potosí to see the capital’s sights. Amongst these, in between the beauty flowered rafts of Xochimilco and the awe-inspiring grandeur Palacio de Bellas Artes, my favorite memories include a plaque in Coyoacán commemorating a battalion of Irish men (someone described them as our red-haired martyrs), many of them Irish Catholic conscripts to the U.S. army who actually switched sides–left the U.S. army and joined Mexican soldiers to fight at their side against the U.S. invasion of Mexico during the years 1846-1848.

San Patricio's Memorial

Batallón de San Patricio Memorial

Theories abound as to the reasons for the formation of this “Batallón de Los San Patricio’s”, some of which include an affinity between the Irish and the Mexican men that may have been forged in the common ground of fervent Catholicism. But all we know today is that some of the men were captured as deserters and executed, others’ stories are lost in time, and yet others eventually settled in Mexico for the rest of their days.

 

 It seems most fitting then, that in this very Irish and very Mexican city of Chicago, Sones de México, Chicago’s premiere Mexican folk ensemble and renowned Irish fiddler Seán Cleland along with the faculty of the Irish Music School of Chicago should join forces to musically tell the story of the San Patricio Battalion.

As Juan Díes, co-founder of Sones de México and one of the driving forces behind the San Patricio concert explains, the project emerged from a collaboration with Cleland and his band at the time a few years back, when they played together as part of an event related to “The Irish Soldiers of Mexico” by Michael Hogan, and then later on were invited to play together in many of Mayor Daley’s events in efforts to bring together the Irish and Mexican communities in Chicago.

At some point, the musical friendship between Cleland and Sones continued to evolve and came to include participations by Sones in the Celtic Festival and conversely, Cleland’s being featured in some songs in Sones’ album “Fandango on 18th Street”. They also performed a beautiful set together at Sones’ 20th Anniversary Concert at MIllenium Park last September.

 The current concert will elaborate fully on the story in four chapters in music, dance and balladry, and includes Alex Chávez of Dos Santos Anti Beat Orquesta and Los Condenados Huastecos and Latino Studies Fellow at Notre Dame University as a guest and consultant.

It may seem like an unlikely mix, but it’s all part of Sones’ perspective of the Mexican son as a living tradition, says Díes, which takes on the flavors of it’s context, which he affirms… “doesn’t put our traditions in any kind of risk or danger, quite the contrary, it enriches us”.

At the same time, the concert is a celebration of victories different and more lasting than those of battalions and wars. In this concert by Sones de México’s, Seán Cleland and the Irish Music School of Chicago, the artists come together to give witness to the gifts of two immigrant communities who today, in a city so far from their homeland, shape Chicago anew in the beauty of music and art.

 

Sones de México Seán Cleland and the Irish Music School of Chicago will perform the Los San Patricios concert at Old Town School of Folk Music on March 21 at 7pm and 10pm.

Check Catalina’s Beat Latino radio show on Vocalo, Friday’s at 1pm.