Feliz Dia de la Independencia

Happy Independence Day to all the Mexicans out there! Yes, September 16th is Independence day, NOT May 5th like many Americans may think, due to the big Cinco de Mayo celebrations we tend to have here in the States. Here is the summary of the movement as I understand it.

In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and got rid of Ferdinand VII, replacing him with his own brother Joseph Bonaparte, which further agravated the colony of New Spain, which was already extremely unhappy with the crown. In 1810, after more than 300 years of rule by Spain, often violent and oppressive to the indigenous tribes and any one who was not a true Spanish-born Spaniard, the Independence movement of New Spain was beginning. By this time most of the land was owned by the powerful Spanish- born or Spanish descended residents of New Spain.

There was a group of young people who had a “literary club” in Querétaro and they had declared that Dec 8, 1810, would be the date to proclaim Independence and they gathered weapons and ammunition, seeking allies across the country. With only three months to go, news leaked and some members of the group were arrested including Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez who managed to get news out to the others before she was taken away and jailed. Doña (an even more polite version of Señora or Mrs.) Josefa is considered the heroine of the Mexican Independence movement.

The plotters decided to advance the date. Three days later they pronounced Mexico independent. Just before dawn on September 16, 1810, the priest of the town of Dolores (near San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato where Mex & I visited), Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla raised the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and gave the Cry of Independence (now known as the “grito de Delores” by Mexicans). There is no record of exactly what he said but the most repeated version is “Viva la religion! Viva nuestra Santissima Madre de Guadalupe! Viva la America! Y muera el mal gobierno!” or “Long live the religion! Long live Our Holy Mother of Guadalupe! Long live America! And death to bad government!” The other sentence that is often quoted is “Death to the gauchupines (Spaniards)”

Hidalgo was 57 and a criollo, which means he was born in New Spain of Spanish parents. Not a mestizo (mix of Spanish, indigenous and even African blood) which was the underclass, indio which was a full-blooded Indian- the lowest class, or a peninsular which was someone actually born in Spain – the highest class at the time. The Virgin of Guadalupe became a symbol of the revolution, the Holy Mother with the Brown Face. Her face is dark like the indigenous people and was proof to them that God loved them, while Spaniards used them, killed them and enslaved them. Hildalgo led troops under a flag of the Virgin with the grito written on it.

They had victory after victory as they marched. The army was 50,000 strong when it marched on Guanajuato, one of the richest silver cities of the time. On Sept 28th there were 500 Spaniards and criollos with their fortunes inside the stone walls of the towns public granary, now becoming the Spanish fortress of Guanajuato. The forces fighting for independence threw stones and shot at the walls of the granary but they held. Finally they piled wood at the gate and lit it on fire. At 5 that night the angry crowd burst through the the burned door and violently killed everyone except the women and children and looted all the valuables. The looting and killing went on all night, by a frenzy of angry, impoverished people.

After months of battles across the country the leader, Hildalgo, was captured on March 21st in a trap set by the Spaniards, along with three other leaders, Ignacio Allende, Jose Mariano Jimenez and Juan Aldama. They were taken to the Federal Palace of Chihuahua City, jailed, probably tortured, and sentenced to death. Allende, Jimenez and Aldama were found guilty of treason and executed on June 26, 1811. In the end, Hildalgo recanted and apologized that he had not controlled his troops. He apologized for the madness and the slaughter that the poor had done. Though he apologized for the bloody turn of the revolution, he remained determined that Mexico should be freed. On July 30, 1811, Hildalgo stood before the firing squad, refusing to be blindfolded. He put his hand over his heart to give the executioners a target. The first volley wounded him in the arms and legs and one passed through his hand but did not kill him. He lay on the ground, bleeding and in pain until someone pointed the gun straight at his heart and killed him.

The heads of all four men were hacked off and put in metal cages where they were sent to Guanajuato and hung on the four courners of the walls of the Granary. The heads remained there in metal cages for 10 years, which is how long it took that priest to lead his worshipers of the Virgin of Guadalupe out of the strangling embrace of the Spanish crown. New Spain’s independence was finally recognized by the Spanish Empire on September 27, 1821.

To decide a new name for their independent country, they looked in to their history, back before the conquest by Spain, to the great city of Tenochtitlan or Mexica (the city in the middle of the lake where Mexico City now stands). Mexico, the name of a warrior god, one of the names of perhaps the most beautiful and orderly city in the world at the moment of its destruction (early 1500s after the Spanish came). However, the people who lived in the city, who built it, who were mostly destroyed, were called the Mexica. If everyone in the country was going to be a Mexican a new name had to be created for the Mexica. They were the people we now know as Aztecs, renamed because one of the stories of their origin said they came from a place called Aztlan.

How did my husband celebrate Independence Day as a kid? On the night of Sept 15th, the President of Mexico reenacts the Grito de Delores by ringing the bells of the National Palace in Mexico City, repeating the words of Hildalgo with the addition of “Viva Mexico!” “Long live Mexico.” Up to 500,000 spectators gather in the Zocalo (main plaza) of Mexico City to watch this. At dawn on Sept 16 there is a parade and the day is full of festivals all around towns throughout Mexico and ended with fireworks displays even in the smallest of towns.

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Filed under Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture

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