Erin-Go-Bud, Cinco De Miller

Unfiltered by | May 2008 | Issue #16

Kiss me, I'm Mexican!

Illustration by Chi-Yun Lau

America takes pride in being a melting pot churning with diverse cultures drawn to its land of freedom and openness. At certain times of the year, our national consciousness turns to particular cultural heritages and celebrations. Many of these social occasions started very small, largely with the local festivities of individual ethnic groups. But somewhere along the way, the intersection of cultural amity and the entrepreneurial spirit of big business morphed these traditional celebrations into global bashes devoid of historic meaning.

The absurdity of this holiday exploitation is best observed in the US, where the alcohol industry has seemingly taken over the communal festivities. In the Boston area, we witness the height of beer company ridiculousness first hand with the annual inebriety that is St. Patrick’s Day. Home to one of the country’s best known Irish populations, Boston hosts more prefabricated, soulless, faux-Irish pubs than you could visit in a week. These places, with their nontraditional Gaelic names, are hard to appreciate even on a slow weekday. Come the 17th of March, they transform into some of the least hospitable places on the beer drinking planet.

St. Patrick’s Day comes early to Boston, with the big brewers’ shamrock-laden paraphernalia appearing on barroom walls weeks in advance of the holiday. Imbibing throngs prepare to pack into bars, toss on oversized foam Miller Lite hats and clink mugs of emerald Coors and green aluminum bottles of Bud Light in celebration of, well, something. Once a year, American breweries, with no ties to Ireland or Irish history (the diluted histories of the big guys are all German), see a chance to hawk barrels of beer and turn it a $hade of green.

This rush to capitalize on the Irish holiday has occasionally ventured into offensive territory. As the American importer of Bass Ale, Anheuser-Busch tried in early March to gain some positive press by sending journalists a wooden box with a pint glass, a bottle of the classic English beer, and a Bass Brolly. The latter is a triangular tool that A-B’s press release suggests will help drinkers create “authentic Black & Tans at home parties and get-togethers this St. Patrick’s Day.” A little homework here reveals that the term Black and Tan is not particularly favored on the Emerald Isle where the Irish use the term derogatorily to refer the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force, which terrorized local communities in their fight against the IRA in the 1920s. Known for their violent attacks on civilians, the pejoratively named Black and Tan unit is hardly something the Irish celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, let alone with English ale.

A month after St. Patrick’s day the big breweries undergo a quick costume change, storing the shillelaghs and shamrocks for sombreros and ponchos in time for the beer industry’s second favorite ethnic holiday, Cinco de Mayo. In the unabashed revelry of this period, cheering consumers never stop to give the whole situation a second’s thought.

Now I don’t begrudge anyone a day or two a year to let loose, but the American public’s sweeping partying on these particular holidays has always troubled me. For one, the average American can’t tell you what they’re actually supposed to be celebrating. Who is this Naomh Pádraig? And what does Mexico’s independence have to do with anything? Why let a little history, or legend, get in the way of a good time, right?

In the interest of fairness, ire shouldn’t be reserved solely for Americans on the subject. Global consolidation has ravaged the once proud Irish brewing industry. Behemoth Diageo, which owns the Guinness brand, recently made a considerable effort in convincing Congress to recognize St. Patrick’s Day as an official American holiday. The London-based conglomerate, which is considering closing Guinness’ famous Dublin brewery, collected more than 250,000 signatures for the petition they presented.

On second thought, maybe Diageo should be applauded for its naked attempt at self promotion. If Congress or local legislatures want to pass a national day of drinking, far be it from me to complain. The once proud Irish and Mexican holidays have already been rendered culturally meaningless by our abidance to the interests of American liquor companies. When we start wearing plastic sombreros while gulping green lager, it’s probably time we stop pretending our drinking days are derivative of ethnic celebrations.