Pete Hamill was among the journalists who spoke to the crowd; a mariachi band and Celtic performers took turns on stage. (James Higgins)
Pete Hamill was among the journalists who spoke to the crowd; a mariachi band and Celtic performers took turns on stage. (James Higgins)

An uncanny alliance to benefit CPJ’s assistance program

While a first glance, The Irish-Mexican Alliance might seem like an unorthodox partnership, last night’s poetry and music fundraising event for CPJ at Connolly’s Pub near Times Square proved otherwise. 

In fact, the two nations go way back, or more precisely, back to Mexican-American War of 1846-48, which sprung from the 1845 American annexation of Texas. While at war, a battalion comprising largely, though not entirely, of Irish immigrants defected from the U.S. army to fight for Mexico, known as the San Patricio Brigade (or Saint Patrick’s Battalion).

In the spirit of this brigade–and to benefit CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program and shed light on its recent work in Mexico–Irish-American journalist and author T.J. English organized and hosted what turned out to be an animated evening, including a mariachi band and Celtic performers alternately taking the stage to get the crowd moving. Musician and actor Rubén Blades, who once ran for the Panamanian presidency, was part of the group.

Speakers at the event included prominent novelist and journalist Pete Hamill, who spoke with great warmth of his time spent in Mexico and the hospitality he witnessed there despite the daily realities of living under a superpower’s shadow. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon also took the stage, saying, “Mexico is dear to me because of my own time spent in the area.” But he also stressed the reality of why everyone was gathered that night: “Journalists in Mexico are dying doing the most basic functions of their job.”

The most memorable moment of the evening came in the quiet form of a poem composed by Chicano poet Jimmy Santiago Baca written specifically for the event and recited on stage. A previously loud and enthusiastic bar atmosphere morphed into complete silence as Bacca’s words in honor of slain journalists poured in to take the place of noise with the opening line, “I sing this requiem for all the journalists murdered by narco-killers.”

There were several journalists in the crowd, including Gerry Regan, editor of an online Irish diaspora magazine, who told me, “I came tonight to support a worthy cause. I believe journalists are the heralds of democracy, and without them no democracy can claim to function.”

The event came at a fitting moment: In September, CPJ conducted a mission to Mexico to meet with officials to discuss ways to protect Mexican journalists working in an environment of impunity. It also released a report, “Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press.” Mexico currently ranks ninth on CPJ’s Impunity Index, a list of countries where journalists are routinely slain and their killers go free.