Mexico Celebrates Its Independence on Diez y Seis de Septiembre
On the church steps in the town of Dolores Hidalgo, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla read theGritto de Hidalgo (or "Call of Hidalgo") in 1810.
That day, September 16 (Diez y Seis de Septiembre), Father Hidalgo launched the Mexican War of Independence against Spain. After the declaration, Hidalgo and his followers set out to spread the word to nearby San Miguel de Allende. Hidalgo affixed an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a staff, bringing the Virgin to symbolize the Mexican liberation movement.
The struggle against Spain centered around the rights of the Criollos (or "Creoles") who were born in the New World with Spanish ancestry, but not given the privilege of those born in Europe. Following the war, those born in Europe were expelled from Mexico.
The movement for Mexican independence, officially proclaimed in 1821, had several precursors. In the eighteenth century there were over 100 small, ill-advised rebellions, but none came close to realizing the goal of a Mexico independent of Spain and rule by criollos, or people of Spanish descent who were born in the colony of Nueva España, or New Spain. The movement that began in 1810 was the first that attracted large numbers of the population, most notably the indigenous peasants.
Miguel Hidalgo was a criollo who was more concerned with the daily needs of his parishioners than their spiritual ones. He was tired of the constant poverty and mistreatment the people received from the peninsulares, or the Spanish administrators who came to New Spain for profit. Hidalgo introduced new industries such as wool weaving, carpentry, and bee keeping to help the economic condition of the peasants and started a reading group with like-minded criollos.
New Spain had been in constant political turmoil since Napoleon seized the Spanish throne in 1808. The Napoleonic threat united the criollos and mestizos, offspring of mixed marriages between Spanish and Amerindian. As the literary societies that Hidalgo initiated grew in popularity, a date was set for the declaration of revolution: 8 December 1810. Months before the date arrived however, the plan was revealed to the authorities and the leaders were sought by the Spanish officials. Deciding that the time had come to ignite the people, Hidalgo rang the church bells in the early morning hours of 16 September, calling his parishioners to mass.
No one knows exactly what Hidalgo said that early September morning. Dozens of different versions have come down to us today, but each speech has a common theme. The priest was calling his people to fight to restore the true religion and protect their natural rights as Mexicans, not as subjects of distant Spain. The enormous army that Hidalgo was able to muster was comprised mostly of indigenous peasants with criollo leaders and was able to capture many important cities, even threatening the Capital. In early 1811 the makeshift army disbanded and Hidalgo was betrayed, tried, and executed. In his place arose another priest-leader, José María Morelos. Morelos would lead the various factions that desired independence for the next four years. With the death of Morelos in 1815 the revolutionary fervor subsided and the banner of revolution finally was picked up by a conservative criollo general, Agustín de Iturbide. In an ironic twist, the conservative Iturbide joined the once liberal revolution in response to the adoption of a liberal constitution in Spain. Although the ideology of the new leaders was not that espoused by Hidalgo and Morelos, the nation was independent and the Mexican people were able to decide the direction of their own future.
Every year on the 16th of September the President of Mexico addresses the Mexican people from the balcony of the National Palace with the modern version of the famous Grito de Dolores. He shouts Vivas! to the leaders of the Mexican Revolution and ends with a cheer echoed three times by the huge crowds that have gathered: “Viva México!” His cry is echoed throughout Mexico by the governor of each state. The Grito, or shout, caps a day of festivals in Mexico City and other urban areas and ushers in a new year of independent Mexico. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds the people of the origins of their nation and those that fought and died so that Mexico may be free.