I was mistaken for a Mexican. It was 1994, and I was living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There was a group of college-age men I knew that were obsessed with American Westerns. These young men had jokingly referred to those from the Free State (Ireland) as Mexicans. It was not a derogatory term, for some I knew had close ties with the RA (The Irish Republican Army or IRA), but those brothers and sisters from “south of the borders,” were referred to in this group occasionally as “Mexicans,” because of their obsession of classic Western Films. Because I picked up a mild brogue when I lived in Belfast, they just assumed I was from the Free State. They were utterly confused I did not know much about Westerns, or cared.
I was living there working on my Division III for my undergraduate degree from Hampshire College, which can be best explained as my senior thesis. I studied at Queen’s University and in the Public Houses, as most students would. Students came from both the Loyalist and Republican enclaves, with a smattering of people from the mainland (UK) and the continent, and one American. However, America was certainly present beyond just me—not only in the references to Westerns, but in the Chicago Style Pizzeria, (a shame they didn’t get authentic Connecticut Pizza), and especially the funding of the RA by the Republican diaspora in New York and Boston throughout the decades before.
Now the Troubles, the term used for the conflict, is very complicated. It is both a very old conflict that goes back centuries, and during the 20th century it should be described as a civil rights conflict that happened because of colonization. It is not unlike the conflict in the Middle East–everyone claims it is a religious conflict, but it is actually a conflict based on ethnicity, where those of privilege are supported by the state. Actually the privileged were supported by an armed and ruthless police state, and in response, the oppressed have done the same, to fight back, making the analogy quite interesting. Now for various reasons the peace process has progressed on the island my grandparents are from, but there seems to be no progress in Palestine/Israel.
I am not sure what the solution is, but I know one thing we can do in the USA: Stop funding weapons. When the Irish diaspora stopped funding the IRA and began instead funding their Independent Retirement Accounts, and the United States also allowed Gerry Adams a visa and thus allowing criticism of the violence from the UK, the US finally got out of the way, and greater dialogue was encouraged. USA influence may have continued with television, movies and pizza, but it ended with the funding of weapons and lifting the censorship of the oppressed. This helped lead to the Good Friday Accord, and the continued work of peace.
So when I hear we are funding weapons in the Middle East, and we censor the voices of the oppressed, what are we expecting? I am not suggesting simply being xenophobic and letting them figure it out, but if we call for peace and fund one side and essentially censor one side, what do we expect?
We are not talking about just some money collected in bars in NYC and Boston; we are talking multi-million dollar funding of weapons. May we not be known only as cowboys who only answer with the gun or hired gun, for we should know that violence never creates a peace that lasts.
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