The Forgotten War

Today we went to Chapultepec park to encounter the “War America doesn’t Remember, but Mexico doesn’t Forget.” This was a history day with a trip to Chapultepec Park (Grasshopper park) which used to be the palace of the Aztec kings and dark moments in Mexican history.

Fifteen years before the Civil War, the territory of Texas was disputed and President Polk (who supported slavery) was trying to balance power between the North and South. A group of Irish Catholic immigrants joined the military and were sent to the disputed territory. They were badly treated by their Protestant American commanders and would sneak across the border to go to Mass in Mexico. The Mexicans welcome them causing many Irish to marry and defect to the Mexican side. American had better weapons and invaded Mexico.

The last stand of the Mexican army and the Irish brigade of San Patricio (Saint Patrick) was at the fortress on Chapultepec Hill. A squad of 8,000 US troops approached the Capitol defended by this fortress turned military school for cadets. The last of the Irish were captured and the Mexican government asked for their release. The US government refused and 20 of the Irish were hung against military policy.

This monument commemorates what happened next. The Mexican army armed everyone they could, included cadets as young as 13 to defend the fort. The held for a long time, but were eventually forced to retreat. One squad leader and five youth cadets took the top tower and refused to surrender defending the Mexican flag. In the end, five were killed, but the last boy who was 13, wrapped the Mexican flag around himself and jumped of the tower to protect the flag. When the US flag rose, the remaining Irish soldiers were hung.

Several statues and monuments in the area commemorate these Mexican heroes such as this statue. It was sad to hear this story which definitely makes one stop and think. It is commendable to be patriotic, but some things just don’t sit well no matter how you put it.

In a way, this conflict defines US and Mexican relations. The US were invaders to the Mexican people. The fortress now a museum illustrates the more current history of Mexico from 1521 until today and Mexico has a complicated history.

(The standard carried by Hernán Cortez) The first people to come were the Spaniards and while human sacrifice ended, the Spaniards were not saints and the natives suffered in Mexico. They lost their religion, they lost their status, some were sold as slaves, and they were abused in many ways.

(One of the first paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe from the 17th century)

The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe brought about the beginnings of healing and conversion, but Mexico remained part of Spain and did not have much independence. Mexico City remained largely the same, but with European rulers who brought their culture with them.

In 1810, the people had enough and there was a series of rebellions until the Mexican people gained independence in 1821.

For the next few decades, governments rose and fell as Mexico tried to unify. This was extremely difficult due to each town basically being its own culture. This we saw when we visited the Museum of Anthropology which had around 15 different displays for the geographic and cultural regions that make up Mexico from the Pueblo Indianas in the American Southwest, to the Aztec, Olmec, Maya, Gulf tribes, Oaxaca and many others. Full unification as a “Mexican People” took years. Meanwhile…

The Mexican government tried its best to keep up with the rest of the world rapidly developing and being new on the public scene. Different countries even owned Mexico such as the French Napoleon III. They contributed to the palace/fortress/governors residence through gardens and art. But economic struggles hampered growth.

Mexico, our neighbor, has been through a lot in the last 500 years and this is a pathetically simple summary of a rich history. Yet being here has given us reference points to a different country and the people who call this country home. Loving your country is a good thing and Scripture says as much to respect legitimate authority, but is there a place to say “yeah. We messed up here.” I think its fair to say that the story of the Mexican youths is a tragedy. Certainly we have similar stories in US history. National politics is complex and history boils over.

In our sharing of graces, we reflected on where the Lord has worked in this trip and almost everyone commented on how we didn’t come expecting to “fix” anything. We came to be with the people here and be welcomed by them. Of course, it wasn’t all that way as a group of window washers on the street called us “sons of Trump.” Knowing the history of Mexico, I understand where they are coming from, but that doesn’t matter to me.

I want to love as Jesus loves. And Mother Inez. And Father Sergio. And Father Manuel. And Blessed Miguel Pro. And Our Lady of Guadalupe. “Left/right” “right/wrong” labels get us no where at all. We look at the face of Christ as our true king who is Lord of all nations and times. He does care about all of us and enters into our lives to help us love the Father with the command to love as He loves.

Tomorrow, we head for home….unless a big snowstorm delays us….then our US phase of our pilgrimage starts.

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