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Immigrant Songs

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St. Patricks's Day brings out the deepest feelings of pride and the silliest of public behaviors among Irish-Americans and those who would join the Irish fraternity for this one day. St. Patrick, what little we know of him, is to Irish-Americans what Elvis is to African-Americans: a touchstone for an inner conflict over identity and assimilation. The cheery leprechauns and the silly caricatures of drunkenness that pop up every March can obscure the role Irish-American rebels have played in the history of the Americas.The tale of the San Patricios is a legend most of us are never taught, but that remains a potent reminder of the Irish struggle to find a place on this continent. For the price of a couple of green beers you can pick up San Patricios (HEAR Music), the CD released last year by [Ry Cooder] and the Chieftains, which eloquently tells their story. (Manhattan's Irish rockers Black 47 also have a tune called "San Patricio Brigade.")The evolving legacy of the Irish in America has been a narrative of struggle ultimately leading to success and assimilation. But it doesn't hurt to recall that, buried deep in Irish bones, is a strain that reminds us that there's only so much we'll take, and that when America doesn't keep its promise, there are those willing to pay a price to remind her of what's at stake.

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