Hispanic Heritage Month: Sept 15 - Oct. 15
By Daniel Muñoz
Mexico is a nation where the past plays a prominent role in shaping its present day development. Mexico is often seen as a bewildering country that is hard to understand by Norte Americanos. Its past differs from that of the U.S. in many aspects but is yet inseparably intertwined.
When “discovered” in 1519, by the Spanish Conquistadores, Mexico was already a home to an estimated 10 million native inhabitants living in a highly organized society, with a well defined culture and with a large body of knowledge accumulated over the past 50,000 years. It was a disciplined, organized society with a form of government that adhered to its own disciplines.
They could not be completely conquered or ignored. They became the foundation upon which the Spanish conquerors built their colonial empire. In the process they created a Mestizo race that survives to this day. It not only exists but rules Mexico.
For the past 154 years Mexico has been overshadowed by its neighbor to the north. The relationship has wavered between blatant intervention, to total ignorance, to a growing sense of interdependence. Nowhere in the world do two countries of such distinction share such a common border. Proximity to the U.S. by Mexico has generated a peculiar acculturation on both sides of the border. Extensive “cultural borrowing,” has occurred. An example is the prevalence of a bilingualism that is neither English nor Spanish but a hybrid with its own sense and meaning. From the beginning of the “contacto” between North and South America the cultures of both countries have became entwined and created its own particular ethos. Mexico has become an integral part of the United States and North America has become an integral part of Mexico creating a rich ethnic diversity to an otherwise bland European and Mestizo society. We can no longer exist without each other.
Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month begins with “Mexico’s War of Independence.” It is fitting that we recall our heritage beginning with our quest for freedom and independence from Spanish colonialism.
From the beginning, after the conquest of the Aztecs and the other tribal indigenous people of the Americas, we were ruled by Spanish born Peninsulares or Gachupines, in contrast to Mexican-born Criollos (Creoles) who were the ten to one majorities.
In 1808 the Peninsulares learned of Viceroy Jose de Iturrigaray’s intent to form a junta with Creole factions, a move that he thought might make him King of an independent Mexican kingdom. In an armed attack on the palace, Peninsulares arrested Iturrigaray and replaced him with puppet Pedro Garibay after which they carried out bloody reprisals against Criollos who were suspected of disloyalty.
One liberal organization that was forced underground was the Literary Club of Queretaro that formed for intellectual discussion, but in practice became a planning organization for revolution. An active member of the group was Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a well-educated liberal priest who questioned policies of the church including clerical celibacy, banning certain literature, infallibility of the pope. Hidalgo became the curator of Dolores in 1803 with primarily an Indian congregation whose languages he spoke and to whom he administered practical skills of life as much as religious doctrine.
In Queretaro, Hidalgo met Capt. Ignacio Allende, a revolutionary thinker in the Spanish army. In the spring of 1810, Allende and Hidalgo planned an uprising for December of the year. Unfortunately, the word leaked out to Spanish authorities and their arrest was ordered.
In September 1810, Father Hidalgo ordered the arrest of Dolores native Spaniards. He then rang the church bell to call the Indians to mass. He then gave the Indians and mestizos the call to retaliate against the hated Gachupines (native Spaniards) who had exploited and oppressed them for ten generations. Hidalgo urged them to recover the lands that were stolen from their forefathers. With cubs, slings, axes, knives, machetes and an intense hatred, the Indians attacked the gachupines.
Hidalgo’s Call for Mexican Independence
At the core of Mexican patriotism is Hidalgo’s “Grito de Dolores.” Every year, on the night of September 15, the President of the Republic “reenacts” the Grito on a balcony of the National Palace to begin the climax of the Independence Day celebrations. To do this with historical accuracy is well nigh impossible, for no one knows precisely what Hidalgo said. The three principal contemporary reports fail to agree.
Some accounts stated that the Grito was a short speech made from the window of the priest’s house to the first group of followers who assembled before dawn. Hidalgo animated them to begin vigorously the enterprise of our Independence:
“My friends and countrymen: neither the king nor tributes exist for us any longer. We have borne this shameful tax, which only suits slaves, for three centuries as a sign of tyranny and servitude; (a) terrible stain which we shall know how to wash away with our efforts. The moment of our freedom has arrived, the hour of our liberty has struck; and if you recognized its great value, you will help me defend it from the ambitious grasp of the tyrants. Only a few hours remain before you see me at the head of the men who take pride in being free. I invite you to fulfill this obligation. And so without a neither patria nor liberty we shall always be at a great distance from true happiness. It has been imperative to take this step as now you know, and to begin this has been necessary. The cause is holy and God will protect it. The arrangements are hastily being made and for that reason I will not have the satisfaction of talking to you any longer.”
Raising his voice with great valor said: “Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe, Long Live Independence.”
Hidalgo’s statements indicate that he was convinced from the start that independence should be the goal of the rebellion.
With little organization and no training, thousands of primarily Indigenous and mestizos overwhelmed royal forces in Guanajuato, and proceeded to murder and loot both Peninsulares and Criollos. The force continued to Mexico City and defeated royalist on the outskirts, but did not enter and occupy the city after which the ragged revolutionary army returned home. Hidalgo and his Creole officers were later able to assemble an army of 80,000.