Mexican Independence Day is today, commemorating Mexico’s independence from their colonial ruler, Spain. Although, in the United States, Mexican heritage and culture is celebrated on Cinco de Mayo (which actually celebrates Mexican victory in a battle with the French), the date chosen in Mexico is September 16, and the story of that day and the events surrounding it is as rich as anything taken from the tale of the American Revolution.
Mexican Independence Day is celebrated in a similar manner to Independence Day in the United States. USA Today points out the aspects that would be familiar to Americans, with the standard fare of fireworks, sparklers, parades, and the thunder of brass bands. Food is served, drinks are consumed, and the people enjoy a reminder of an independence that was hard won and uncertain. But there is a tradition that would be very unfamiliar to the typical American observer. An aspect of the celebration is the recitation of “El Grito,” the call for freedom that echoes down from the town of Dolores Hidalgo in 1810 – the “Cry of Dolores.”
Mexican Independence Day commemorates the “Cry of Dolores”. It was not a great, victorious battle, or end of a war, but rather the beginning of a long struggle. It was the Mexican version of Lexington and Concord, the American “shot heard around the world”; the opening salvo of a desperate struggle that had been building for a long time. The speech, the “Cry of Dolores” itself, that spurred the Mexican people to action is largely lost to history, but traditionally the Mexican President recites it on the eve of Independence Day and this tradition is mimicked in cities and towns across Mexico.
Mexican independence began with a priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Father Hidalgo, born in 1753, was a creole, or a person of mixed heritage. The creole population often suffered in colonial Mexico, with the Spanish elite often holding most of the positions of power. Hidalgo’s family suffered under the Spanish regime, and was ruined financially when the Spanish crown forced the church to call in debts. Many were left destitute. Father Hidalgo, at 57 years of age, joined a group of revolutionaries in what has come to be known as the Queretaro Conspiracy, a plot to overthrow the Spanish government in Mexico. Father Hidalgo, a popular and influential priest in Mexico, gave the movement much needed moral authority.
This early plot for independence was curtailed, however, as the plan was discovered by Spanish authorities. The conspirators debated whether or not to go into hiding. According to About, Father Hidalgo convinced them to press forward, and after he sounded the church bells, he mounted his pulpit on the morning of the first Mexican Independence Day, September 16, 1810.
“Know this, my children, that knowing your patriotism, I have put myself at the head of a movement begun some hours ago, to wrest away power from the Europeans and give it to you,” Father Hidalgo is said to have preached.
This event is now known as the “Cry of Dolores,” the most famous of all Mexican speeches. It was a clarion call for revolution, but it was just the beginning of the battle for Mexican independence from Spain. This independence is something that Father Hidalgo would never see, however. After leading his people in several engagements with the Spanish, his rag-tag army was finally defeated at the Battle of Calderon Bridge the following year, in 1811. Hidalgo, along with other leaders, was captured and executed, but his speech still lives on in the Mexican consciousness.
The Mexican War for Independence would not conclude until 1821, eleven bloody years after the “Cry of Dolores” was uttered. Those intervening years were a time of great turmoil, with millions killed or displaced by the conflict.
Today, Mexican citizens celebrate all across their country, and the “Cry of Dolores” is recited in town squares everywhere. The bells of Dolores Hidalgo ring, sounding in another Independence Day.
[Featured Image by Rebecca Blackwell/AP Images]