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Hamill blasts U.S. cocaine users

By Peter McDermott

Being thrown in jail helped Pete Hamill decide he wanted to a writer.

So he revealed last week to those who showed at the Irish-Mexican Alliance at Connolly's in Midtown, on the 54th anniversary of the incident that led to his arrest.

At the Irish American Writers & Artists event to raise funds for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hamill spoke of his "rage" at the Narco War that has claimed more than 30,000 lives, violence on a scale that has not been seen before in Mexico.

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"And those gun shops along the border," he said. "Sixty-two gun shops where any idiot can walk in and buy a Kalashnikov or an AK47.

"When I think all of that is driven by the inexhaustible nose of the United States," he said.

Hamill condemned those "who think that it's a funny thing to get drunk at the Plaza Hotel, snort some cocaine and get on with their lives the next day when the bail bondsman gets them out."

It was an all-day drinking session on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1956 that landed the émigré art student Hamill in the so-called Black Palace in Mexico City.

"I got to learn about Mexicans once more, one at a time," he recalled.

"They shared jokes," he said. "They told me unbelievable stories that were about themselves and their relatives. They made me laugh."

Hamill often got to meet those relatives, as they had to bring food to their incarcerated loved ones, none being provided by the authorities.

The young painter began to understand the importance of language and how difficult life was for the immigrants he knew of in the United States, whether they spoke Italian, Yiddish or some other mother tongue.

"They couldn't be polite; they couldn't be funny; they couldn't be subtle; they couldn't use irony in any particular way because they didn't have the language," he said.

Hamill came to love the Spanish language, but the entire Mexican experience also led him to abandon his art ambitions and begin a career as a writer and journalist in the English language.

He said he learned the "amazing generosity of individual Mexicans, the stoicism, the fatalistic humor, the absolute courage, the devotion to family.

"The people who come here to work, that clean offices at midnight, that mow lawns, that mind children so other people can go to work," Hamill said. "Those people are not the narcos; those people are no different from the Irish who came from the Famine on."

For pictures from the event please go to Page 14 of the print edition.