September 14, 2001

Mexico's Struggle for Independence

Mexico's independence was not a sporadic movement like the Mexican Revolution of 1910 with wildfires springing up throughout the country. On the contrary, it was a well-planned movement to free Mexico from the paralyzing grip of the Spanish Monarchy.

At the turn of the century, La Nueva España (New Spain, as Mexico was known until independence) had just over 6 million people. Most of these people were poverty-stricken Indians and mestizos who were enslaved in the infamous encomiendas, the predecessors of the haciendas, which charged the Indians exhorbitant prices for their goods and kept the Indians in constant debt. For all practical purposes, the Indians and mestizos were slaves in their own land_enslaved by the gachupines (Spaniards).

At that time New Spain was a colony with a rigid hierarchical social structure. The Indians (and blacks) were at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. At the top were the peninsulares (Spaniards) immediately followed by the criollos (native-born colonists of "pure" Spanish descent). In between these groups were the numerous varieties of racial mixture: mestizos (Spanish and Indian), mulatos (black and Spanish), and zambos (black and Indian). All of these groups resented the Spaniards, who held the top administrative positions in the colony even though they only numbered about 70,000 people. The criollos, even though they were of Spanish descent, had less opportunity than the Spaniards, although they numbered about 1,000,000 people. Consequently, there was much resentment of the status quo in New Spain.

There were several important historical factors which influenced the Mexican thinkers of the turn of the century: the French Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution. Even though censorship was an established institution in New Spain, it was impossible to intercept these currents of thought which made their way to New Spain by word of mouth or through smuggled books and pamphlets.

Thus, it was just a matter of time before the war for independence broke out. In Queretaro, several meetings took place to plan independence for New Spain. The original conspirators comprised clergy, military officers, and lawyers: Ignacio Allende, Lorenzo José Parra, José Maria Sánchez, Miguel Dominguez and his extraordinarily patriotic wife, Maria Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez. Yet, they still needed a strong leader, one that would boldly and energetically lead the insurrection. Allende could think of only one person, the Spanish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Thus, the stage was set for the Grito de Independencia, the declaration (shout) of independence pronounced by Hidalgo in the small town of Dolores on September 16, 1819. In short order, Hidalgo, marched to San Miguel with 300 followers, to Celaya with 4,000 followers, and to Guanajuato with 20,000 followers. Finally he was stopped by the Spaniards at Monte de las Cruces, just outside of Mexico City. The war lasted another 11 years until the Spaniards were ultimately defeated in 1821. During the war Hidalgo, Allende, and other patriots, such as José Maria Morelos (Hidalgo's successor) were

executed.

The war for independence was influenced by other revolutions and liberal thinkers. It was a struggle for liberty, equality and justice. It was a struggle in which even La Virgen de Guadalupe took the side of the mestizos and Indians. After all, she was the Virgin Mary with Indian features, a true representative of the Mexican people. But independence

only replaced one oppressor with another. The criollos took the place of the peninsulares and continued to oppress the Indians and mestizos.

In conclusion, the grito which is uttered every 16th of September is a call for all Mexicans and Chicanos to remember the components of a truly free society: liberty, equality, and justice for all. The mere fact that these rights have not been realized makes it even more important to celebrate el Diecieis de Septiembre in commemoration of Hidalgo's famous declaration to his fellow Mexicanos: "¡Viva México! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! ¡Mueran los gachupines!"

(By Armando Alvarez. Reprinted from "La Voz Hispana de Colorado", September 11, 1996)

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