Mexican Independence Day is celebrated every September 16, but to kick off the holiday one must experience the Grito de Dolores (a call to arms; a cry). This “kick-off” happens the night of September 15 and is reenacted by the president and every mayor of every community in Mexico. Outside of Mexico, the task lies on diplomats serving in consulate offices and embassies across the world. The celebration is not intended only for Mexican expatriates but as an opportunity to share Mexico’s culture and history with people of many nations.
For over 300 years, Spain kept a stranglehold on her colonies, only permitting limited trade opportunities and appointing Spaniards – instead of native-born Creoles – to prominent positions in government. The United States had won its independence in 1776 igniting the dream of independence in Latin American colonies. Creoles saw in Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and imprisonment of Ferdinand VII an opportunity for rebels to organize an independence movement.
Creoles met and planned conspiracies only to be discovered and executed. Meanwhile, in the city of Queretaro a new conspiracy consisting of prominent citizens like Father Miguel Hidalgo, Royal Army Official Ignacio Allende, Government Official Miguel Dominguez and Cavalry Captain Juan Aldama was ready to make a move. They had set the date of October 2, 1810 to launch their attack. But on September 15, news got to Father Hidalgo that the Spanish were out to get him, so he decided to act immediately summoning his congregation from the pulpit of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato where he delivered the memorable Grito de Dolores. He ordered for the bells to ring and encouraged people to free themselves from Spanish tyranny and recover the land stolen by the Spaniards. To defend their rights; to revolt.
It is written that what started with a poorly armed army of 600 civilians including many poor farmers, eventually amounted to more than 90,000 members of the Army of the Three Guarantees. Father Hidalgo was killed on July 1811, but many others took on the fight for independence for 11 more years like Jose Maria Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria, and Vicente Guerrero. Most of the war’s heroes were brutally murdered. It was not until September 28, 1821, that Mexico’s independence was effectively declared.
Today some people ask why so many Mexican celebrations on this side of the border. The question is probably more relevant in border communities due to the proximity to Mexico. We are already too Mexican! some say. Expatriates living far away in cities all over North America welcome the efforts, for it allows them an opportunity to celebrate with family and share their pride and love for the mother country just like Irish and German communities do. For second or third generation Mexican – Americans the “Grito” celebration can be as foreign as for a person from Egypt. But the event grants those of Mexican descent an opportunity to reflect on our personal history and discover if these historical roots somehow influence who we are as a people.
Rejecting the history of our ancestors will distance us from the true knowledge of ourselves, therefore, impacting our future in America. There is a lot to be proud of, and people of Mexican descent cannot allow for misperceptions and generalizations to define us; we must find out for ourselves, and the only way to do it is by experiencing Mexico’s culture and by reading Mexico’s history on our own time, and by sharing this knowledge with our families. It will make us proud…I guarantee it.
Considering the bad news from Mexico constantly bombarding the media, and the latest Mexican bashing in the USA, is this cry for action relevant today? Is turning away from our heritage the answer? We don’t always like the image in the mirror, do we? But will our American ideology change the color of our skin, the traits in our features, and even our surnames?
These events are an invitation for us to read more about those who forged the country of Mexico and discover valuable lessons about ourselves that will positively contribute to American culture. It is an opportunity for others to discover and appreciate contributions made by the people of Mexico to the United States and celebrate life with Mariachi music!
Photos of my husband Lupe and I during one of Mexico’s Independence celebrations.