Just as we can imagine the festivals, parades and parties that occur in the United States on the 4th of July for our Independence Day, the same occurs in Mexico on the 16th of September. Mexico City, "El D.F.", has a main plaza that showcases an example of how the Mexican citizens celebrate their day of independence. However, here in the U.S., many often confuse "Cinco de Mayo", the 5th of May, with Mexican Independence Day. "Cinco de Mayo" actually celebrates the unlikely Mexican victory over the French in the "Battle of Puebla" in 1862. In fact, many are surprised when they learn that "Cinco de Mayo" is a day that is celebrated more in the U.S. than in Mexico. So, what is "Mexican Independence Day" and what is the history behind it?
Prior the the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, Mexico was a country that had produced complex indigenous civilizations. Populated more than 13,000 years ago, Mexico is the southern portion of North America which makes it part of "Las Americas". Under Spanish rule, the Creoles (wealthy Mexicans born of Spanish decent) grew tired of seeing Spaniards being appointed to important colonial posts. With an already present descent of Spain's hold on the Mexican colonies, Mexicans were looking to separate themselves from the Spanish rule. In 1808, Creole patriots saw their opportunity when Napoleon invaded Spain and imprisoned the Spain King, Ferdinand VII. Equally empowering was the example to the north where the United States had won their independence decades prior.
In 1809-1810 in Querétaro there was an organized conspiracy which included several prominent citizens. The leaders of this movement included Royal army officer Ignacio Allende, government official Miguel "Dominguez, calvary captain Juan Aldama, and parish priest Father Miguel Hidalgo of Dolores, Mexico to name a few. October 2nd was the date that had been selected for the insurrection against Spain to begin however the plot had been found out and one by one the conspirators were being arrested and harshly punished. Father Miguel Hidalgo learned of the order for his arrest and ordered a meeting at his church. On the evening of September 15th, Hidalgo rang the church bell to call his congregation to mass. Father Hidalgo gave a speech now known as "EL Grito de Dolores," or the "Cry of Dolores" to rally his people to fight. Hidalgo's words "Viva Mexico" and "Viva la independencia!" have become famous and are remembered and repeated each year at celebrations of Independence Day. Within hours Father Hidalgo had formed an army. Armed with knives, stones, slings, clubs, and guns, Criollos (Creoles), Indians, and Mesizos (Children born from a Spaniard and an Indian marriage) fought together as they marched towards the capitol, Mexico City.
Along their path they engaged the Spanish and a battle ensued in Guanajuato known as, "The Battle of Monte de las Cruces." Father Hidalgo's army defeated the Spanish and continued toward the capitol, reaching its gates by November. However once they reached Mexico City, there was hesitation prior to entering and some of the army deserted. Father Hidalgo retreated, perhaps from fears the Spanish army would reinforce the city and be to large to combat.
In January of 1811, Father Hidalgo's army engaged the Spanish in "The Battle of Calderon Bridge." The Spanish were smaller in numbers, but their skill and training forced the Mexican army to flee and led to the capture of rebel leaders, Royal army officer Ignacio Allende, and Father Miguel Hidalgo. They were both put to death in June of 1811 and just as it looked as though Spain had reasserted rule over the colony, José María Morelos, one of Hidalgo's captains, took up the banner of independence and re-formed the disbanded army. Morelos fought until his own capture and execution in 1815, but was succeeded by his lieutenant, Vincente Guerrero and rebel leader Guadalupe Victoria. For six more years they led the Mexican army's fight against the Spanish. Then, in September of 1821, they reached an agreement with turncoat royal officer Agustín de Iturbide which allowed for Mexico's liberation.
Today, in Mexico City, thousands will congregate in the Zócalo, or main square on the evening of the 15th to hear Mexico's President ring the same bell that Father Hidalgo did and recite the "Grito de Dolores.The crowd responds with cheers. Mexicans celebrate by hanging flags all over their home, spending time with family, and enjoying food together. The food is often made red, white and green (like the Mexican Flag). Statues in memory of Father Hidalgo are also decorated with red, white, and green flowers.
The Mexican Flag is made up of green, white, and red. The green is on the left side of the flag and symbolizes independence. White is the color in the middle of the flag and symbolizes religion. The red is on the right side of the flag and symbolizes union. These colors are used often in decorating for the Mexican Independence Day fiesta.
The United States of America is rich and culture and a country made up of immigrants. We are fortunate to be able to learn and partake in many celebrations because these traditions are brought along with these immigrants. In US cities like Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, or Tucson with large Mexican populations, expatriate Mexicans will celebrate and hold festivals. Learning the significance of what our neighbors, classmates, co-workers and friends bring from their culture is a great way for all of us to participate in celebrations like this.