Every year since 1968, by presidential proclamation, a week has been set aside to recognize the role played by Hispanic groups of the past and present. In 1989, Congress passed a bill to change Hispanic Heritage Week to a month long celebration.
The month is bookend by two significant Hispanic events. The first is Mexican Independence Day celebrated on September 16 and the other is the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus celebrated on October 12. During this month it is a time to reflect on the history of America and of the contributions and impact of the Hispanic community on contemporary America.
During this month we also recognize the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the Spanish-American War. We recognize the military contributions by Mexico and Mexicans to the United States. We reflect on the rich history and contributions in science, the arts, business, government, and every other field of endeavor, which creates a diverse mosaic that, strengthens our character as a country.
On contemporary America the influence and impact is now an every day occurance. We see and feel the impact in politics, education, business, media, socially and culturally. A day doesn’t go by when the Hispanic community or issues are not at the forefront of discussion, from the recall election to the creation of a tamale museum in San Juan Capistrano.
September 16th is hailed as Mexican Independence Day when in fact it is not Independence Day but the beginning of an 11-year struggle to achieve independence. September 16 was the day that Miguel Hidalgo took the first steps toward independence with his famous El Grito de Dolores. It is this call to arms that led to the creation of modern day Mexico.
By Ruben Gonzalez Fierro
September 16, 2003 is the 193rd anniversary of the beginning of Mexico’s armed struggle for independence in 1810 from Spain. Father Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a criollo (Mexican-born Spaniard) Catholic priest in the village of Dolores, in the present state of Hidalgo, was forced to make what turned to be a monumental decision that revolutionized the course of Mexican history.
Shortly before dawn of September 16, Hidalgo made a passionate exhortation to the group of Indians and mestizos congregated at his church to incite them to retaliate against the hated gachupines, also known as peninsulares, or native Spaniards, who had exploited and oppressed Indians and Mexicans for 300 years. ¡Mexicanos! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! Hidalgo shouted to the congregation made up of the lowest members of New Spain’s caste system.
This is the famous Grito shouted at midnight every 15th of September in every town of Mexico. In response to these exhortations, the crowd in the church shouted ¡Muerte a los opresores! ¡Muerte a los gachupines!
Father Hidalgo was a well-educated man with formal schooling at a Catholic seminary and the University of Mexico. He was a compassionate man who tried to help the Indians wherever he could and taught them Spanish. He chafed at the social and economic inequities in a system run by the peninsulares.
Today, Hidalgo is revered as the Mexican George Washington, the father of México’s liberty. September 16, the anniversary of the Grito de Dolores, is México’s Independence Day, and the church bell that Hidalgo rang that night now is now in an honored position in México City.
Every Mexican at home and abroad with some knowledge of the bloody struggle that the Grito initiated feels a knot in his throat and a sense of patriotism that goes with the acknowledgment of his national origin.
It’s a matter of maximum pride to be Mexican and to be present at El Grito wherever it is shouted, because the present member of La Raza is the descendant of the mestizos who suffered so much at the hands of the conquerors, and the men in power in subsequent eras up to the present time. The heroic Raza Mexicana has earned its place in the world of sovereign nations and the respect of all nationalities because of its survival with dignity through the ages of hardship and the successes it has achieved on an international scale.
A summary of the Mexican War of Independence:
Leading up to the declaration of the rebellion, Hidalgo had the support of a number of dissatisfied criollos, army officers Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, the corregidor, the royally appointed mayor of Queretaro and his wife, and many others who joined the rebels later on. Most of these patriots did not survive the war, which lasted until 1821. A very able and cruel officer, Gral, led the realista, royal troops. Félix María Calleja, whose armies inflicted heavy losses on the insurgents’ troops. It was a very bloody war, especially at the beginning when there were battles at end of which both sides executed many prisoners.
Within a short time, the insurgent group numbered close to 80,000 men making up a badly armed and untrained army of mestizos and Indians, without effective military leadership. But in short order, it overwhelmed Celaya, San Miguel de Allende, and then Guanajuato after a bloody siege of the Alhondiga, a grain warehouse where the defenders had made a last stand. Hidalgo and his troops marched on Mexico City, after having captured Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Valladolid, but did not attack it. This was a critical mistake by Hidalgo, for the city could have been taken, and perhaps conclude the rebellion then.
Instead, he retreated to Guadalajara. Here he issued edicts abolishing Indian tribute and black slavery. He ordered lands restored to Indian communities and the end of state monopolies. Hidalgo abolished slavery long before President Lincoln did the same in the U.S.
The realista army led by Gen. Calleja engaged the insurgents at Calderón, where they were defeated.
Hidalgo with about 1000 men retreated to Coahuila. With Calleja in hot pursuit with a well armed army manned by mestizos and led by criollo officers, he was betrayed by Ignacio Elizondo, a criollo officer. Hidalgo and his aides Allende and Aldama were captured in Monclova. Allende and Aldama were summarily executed and Hidalgo was taken to Chihuahua where he was tried by the Inquisition, found guilty and shot.
Their heads were put on display in Guanajuato to serve as remainders to the populace of the fate that awaited them if they chose to join the rebels.
Upon Father Hidalgo’s demise, another priest took over the struggle. Don José María Morelos, a mestizo parish priest follower of Hidalgo who led a more profound and methodical revolutionary movement, a significant improvement over Hidalgo’s poorly organized uprising. Morelos proved to be statesmanlike, disciplined and capable in organizing a well-trained army and waged successful campaigns in southern México culminating with the capture of two strategic cities-Oaxaca and Acapulco.
The Congress of Chilpancingo convened by Morelos in 1813 called for Mexican independence and the abolition of all class distinctions, slavery and tribute. His proposals were far reaching and laid the foundations for later reformers well into the 20th century.
Morelos continued his hard fight against the royalist government. Contending with severe difficulties within his movement and on the face of increasing Spanish military efficiency and superiority, the rebellion was doomed and Morelos was captured, tried and executed in 1815. Although two of his lieutenants, Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero, continued guerrilla warfare, it was left to the conservative criollo aristocrat Col. Agustín de Iturbide to lead México into independence in 1821. Events in Spain influenced peninsulares, conservative criollos and Church hierarchy to turn to Iturbide to convince Guerrero to join him in declaring Mexico’s independence. This was done on February 24,1821 with the proclamation of the Plan of Iguala.