Ireland's Mexican wave

It’s Mexico’s Independence Day and the country’s ambassador to Ireland and his Mariachi band are on a mission to promote the …

It's Mexico's Independence Day and the country's ambassador to Ireland and his Mariachi band are on a mission to promote the ties between this country and his own, writes UNA MULLALLY

TODAY, UP to 1,500 Mexican people who live in Ireland, and the 112 million people who live in Mexico itself, will celebrate the country’s National Day of Independence.

Cinco de Mayo (literally “the 5th of May”) is often misinterpreted to be Mexico’s Independence Day, but it is in fact a national day of pride that has caught on in the US. The summer celebration is recognised only regionally in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla, where the Mexican army defeated the French on the May 5th, 1862. It is today, September 16th, the day after the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla sparked a revolt against the occupying colonial government of Spain, that remains the most important national holiday in Mexico.

Ordering the church bells to be rung in the town of Dolores on September 15th, 1810, Hidalgo y Costilla gave an inspirational speech,known as the Grito de Dolores (or the “Cry of Dolores”) that marked the official starting point of Mexico’s War of Independence. The war would end over a decade later, with the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire declaring official independence from Spain.

At 11pm last night, the president of Mexico rang the bell at the National Palace in Mexico City, in remembrance of that night in Dolores over 100 years ago. The same ceremony will take place at Mexican embassies all over the world.

In Ireland, the Mexican ambassador, Carlos García de Alba, who has been in the job three months, is keen to ignite Irish-Mexican relations ahead of next year’s 20th anniversary of official diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The interaction of Irish people with Mexican culture often begins and ends with shots of tequila or a burrito, but the links between Ireland and Mexico are deep and complex. Last Sunday, the ambassador travelled to Clifden, Co Galway to commemorate St Patrick’s Battalion. The group of about 200 mostly Irish immigrants had travelled to Mexico to fight in the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848, having emigrated to America during the Famine. With a promise of US citizenship, they joined the American army, but during the war they defected, joining the Mexican side and fighting alongside the Mexicans who would ultimately lose the war. Most of those who survived were court-martialed and executed by hanging by the US military. The San Patricios are lauded as heroes in Mexico, with schools and churches named after them, along with a plaque honouring their contribution in San Jacinta Plaza in Mexico City.

It’s this type of solidarity de Alba is attempting to evoke. “Historically speaking, we, both people, Irish and Mexican, have a lot of similarities,” he says. “The first thing you have are these tremendously deep Catholic roots, which culturally mean a lot

of things. Secondly, we have both spent lots of time next to big powers as neighbours, so strategically speaking that is a similarity. Both countries have a long tradition of international migration. And we both choose the USA. The largest diaspora there is Irish-American; and the second largest diaspora is Mexican American. These are just some examples of strong similarities.”

Ireland and Mexico import and export pharmaceutical products to one another, but there are also some commercial quirks in our economic relationships. Along with housing offices for Smurfit and Kerry Group, Mexico is home to one of Ireland’s most successful exports: airlines. VivaAerobus is the country’s regional low-cost airline, part-owned by the Ryan family, who founded Ryanair. Their 49 per cent holding in the company goes under the name of RyanMex. The company, which was launched in late 2006, also operates a bus service from Texas to Mexico.

Cemex is probably Mexico’s greatest presence in Ireland. The company supplies cement and building materials, operating 70 outlets around the country and trading on the Irish Stock Exchange as Readymix.

To Mexico, we export a key ingredient of Coca-Cola, and in return, according to the ambassador, whose knowledge on trade relations is impressively encyclopedic, Ireland is also the largest consumer, per capita, of Corona beer outside of Mexico.

De Alba has also managed to get his pet project off the ground: starting a mariachi band in Ireland. The San Patricio Mariachi Band gave their first performance yesterday, under the stewardship of a Mexican violin teacher who has lived here for eight years. Today, they’ll perform again during the Independence Day celebrations at the Grosvenor Suite in the D4 Berkeley Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin.

“Grounded, humble, friendly, warm,” De Alba says, describing Irish people, and mentioning especially the willingness of Irish people to help when one appears lost on the street. “For me, it is funny to realise in an Irish person you have a Latin heart and an Anglo-Saxon brain,” de Alba says. “It is of course the perfect combination.”

Mexicans in Ireland

According to the Mexican ambassador to Ireland there are “no less than 1,000, no more than 1,500” Mexican people living in Ireland, far fewer than populations living here from elsewhere in Latin America, such as Ireland’s large Brazilian community.

Most Mexicans in Ireland live in Dublin, although there are small communities in Galway and Cork. The majority are students in three categories; young students learning or improving their English in language schools; Mexican third-level students studying degrees; and other students undertaking post- graduate programmes. Most of the remainder of Mexicans here are part of mixed couples, Mexican men married to Irish women, or Mexican women married to Irish men. There is also an Irish-Mexican adoption support group offering support to Irish families adopting children from Mexico.

5 things you didn't know about Mexico

Chocolate was invented in Mexico

The word itself is derived from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, who drank chocolate before they ate it. Cacao has been grown in Mexico for over 3,000 years.

Caesar salad was invented there

It’s not an Italian dish, but rather the invention of an Italian-American immigrant, Caesar Cardini, who opened restaurants in Mexico City and Tijuana.

Mexico City is built on a lake

It sinks about 20cm a year. Take that, Venice.

Mexico City has the world’s 11th highest murder rate

It translates to 18 murders per 100,000 people annually. Ireland’s murder rate stands at 1.25 per 100,000.

62 indigenous languages are spoken throughout Mexico

It’s the second highest number globally, surpassed only by India.