This year’s virtual St. Patrick’s Day should be a fitting end to a tired old “holiday.”
My family’s patriarchal mythology has us descending from a pair of intrepid lads, 12 and 14, who made their scary way across the pond from family sod to Delaware in the 1760s as indentured servants. It’s unknown if they were literate, but within a couple generations they were.
By 1828, one of their descendants and his young bride were at the spear point of Manifest Destiny. With a determination to become landowners on newly stolen Potawatomi lands in southern Michigan, they were lauded as pioneers. By the 1860s, they were sending their Yankee sons to fight for the Union. That pretty much sealed their white entitlement and began the irrelevance of an Irish last name, at least in the wilds of the Midwest.
Some Irish men married well and dropped the O from the front of their names, such as the family of Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, the conqueror of Santa Fe who led the Army of the West for America’s Manifest Destiny in President James K. Polk’s Mexican War of 1846.
Manifest Destiny has rightly become a pejorative notion, but there’s an undeniable certain human spirit that seeks a frontier and a chance to reinvent oneself free from the persecution of a born status. After 1848 and the Treaty of Hidalgo, which “legitimized” the conquerors’ right to discriminate in the lower left quarter of the United States, manifesting began in earnest.
We may now be witnessing a new Manifest Destiny on our southern border, a peaceful and plaintive reconquest of occupied Aztlan.
Lads of 12 and 14 are lining up to cross over and tell their stories. Unlike border-crossing patterns of the past that ebbed and flowed from Mexico’s northern states following the turning seasons or times of turmoil, this influx of adolescent boys from the Indigenous areas of the northern triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is different.
My fervent hope is that hundreds of them have relatives or sponsors in Santa Fe who can introduce them to our community. Truly. And I hope many will someday find their way to Santa Fe job sites, perfect incubators of cross-cultural respect, job training and citizenry.
When I manifested my way to Santa Fe in 1986 from Boston, a post-collegiate home where I first encountered the ugliness of Irish stereotyping, I cherished being called an Anglo and lumped with anybody who wasn’t Black, Indian or Hispanic.
Being a racial minority on a Santa Fe job site was a thrilling cultural shock. Sorting out the ethnicities of brown co-workers wasn’t always obvious to me, although probably blindingly so to those conditioned to recognize differences. What I saw as subtleties were profound differences to others.
And yet on job sites, those differences hardly mattered from 8 to 5. That has become even more so over my years of observation. Thirty-five years ago, the Spanish-speaking-only workers were mostly in the hardest, nastiest trades like hot-tar roofing, their bosses often local Hispanos.
Over time, those workers, often lanky cowboys from Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua, started working higher-skilled trades as electricians, plumbers and framers. Now those immigrant professionals own those businesses and represent every trade on a custom home. One of Santa Fe’s most bankable general contractors is a Mexican-born woman running job sites where speaking English is rare.
These young men on our border, ethnically and culturally far removed from Santa Fe’s residential construction workforce, should be welcomed and respected for their manifest gumption and perseverance, something common to all immigrants and homebuilders.