Mexican Independence: What is Remembered and What Is Forgotten

Isabel Martínez

On September 15, Mexicans all over the world will be celebrating the independence of their native land once again. Both in towns all over Mexico and in Toronto and other cities of the world where there is a significant Mexican population, Mexicans come out to the public squares every year to commemorate the night in 1810 when the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called upon the parishioners of the town of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, to take up arms against the Spanish. This celebration is so firmly ingrained in the national collective imagination that sometimes its most basic features are obscured or forgotten.

For example, there is no official version of the words spoken by Hidalgo, considered the founding father of the Mexican nation and one of the major figures in national history, on the night of September 15 and the early dawn of the following day, although historians agree that he gave a cheer for the Catholic faith, for Ferdinand VII (who at that time had been replaced on the Spanish throne by Joseph Bonaparte) and the Virgin of Guadalupe. An image of the virgen morena, or brown-skinned virgin, became the first symbol of Mexico’s independence struggle. Since that time the so-called “Grito” (literally, “shout”, referring to the words shouted by Hidalgo that night in 1810) has become a Mexican institution, sometimes used to mark an official celebration, other times to protest against the government.

In 1812, the rebel general Ignacio López Rayón held the first commemoration of Hidalgo’s “grito de independencia” in Huichapan, in what today is the state of Hidalgo. A provisional government was established in 1821 after the victory of the Army of the Three Guarantees, led by Agustín de Iturbide, Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero. The provisional government issued a proclamation in February of the following year that September 16 would be a national holiday, although it was a matter of debate and the date had not been considered among the original dates for the celebration of independence, which included February 24 (the date of signing of the “Plan de Iguala”, which officially established Mexican independence), March 2 (when the Mexican Army accepted the Plan) and September 27 (when the troops entered Mexico City), according to the conservative politician and historian Lucas Alamán in his book, Historia de México.

To facilitate the celebrations, it was tacitly established that the celebration would effectively begin on the night of the 15th and not in the early dawn of the 16th, when Hidalgo’s original “grito” was actually made. Tradition dictates that the head of government (the president, state governor or mayor, depending on the level of government concerned) will appear on the balcony of the government building at 11 p.m., wave the Mexican flag and honour the nation’s heroes. However, there is no strict script to which the public representatives are expected to adhere, and thus each head of government can give the occasion his or her own personal touch.

Over the years, the celebration has been established as Mexico’s biggest civic celebration. It became customary for the president to celebrate the event in the town of Dolores, where the original “grito” took place, in the fifth year of his six-year mandate, especially during the era of single-party rule by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), from the 1930s until the year 2000. In recent years, presidents have alternated between Dolores and the National Palace in Mexico City’s main square. Traditional Mexican music, fireworks and pozole (a soup made with corn, chili and pork or chicken) have become indispensable parts of the celebration.

Many forget that seven other Latin American countries also celebrate their national holidays in September. Brazil commemorates its independence from Portugal on the 7th; Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala celebrate the independence of Central America on the 15th, and Chile’s national holiday is the 18th. Since 2008, Google has dedicated a “doodle” on the 15th of each year to acknowledge Mexican independence.

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