by Michele Joyce
Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16. It is an official holiday in Mexico, and a big one. The celebrations center around the start of the movement for independence which began on the morning of September 16, 1810.
The man who started the struggle for independence, Father Miguel Hidalgo, was far from your typical image of a priest would be. He read Enlightenment-era literature that may have been at the root of his questioning the power of the Spanish king and the Pope, the virgin birth, and clerical celibacy. He lived openly with a woman, and fathered children to two women over the course of his life. He was even known to gamble.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Father Hidaglo was part of a local movement planning a revolt against the Spanish colonial government. When his involvement with the group was discovered, he was forced to act quickly. He summoned peasants and parishioners, ringing the bells of his local parish church, where he gave an impassioned speech inciting a movement to freedom. What exactly he said is unknown, but some accounts report that in his impassioned state, he cried, “Long live religion! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Long live the Americas and death to the corrupt government!” It is interesting to note that his use of the image Virgin of Guadalupe (which he mounted on a lance, and used as a flag) early in the War of Independence made the Virgin a much more prominent national symbol.
In his Mexico: A Biography of Power, Historian Enrique Krauze writes of Hidalgo, “Within a month, he had been joined by more than fifty thousand men, mainly Indians from the poorest levels of society. Attracted by his religious magnetism, and by other, less noble motives, this crowd devastated the cities of San Miguel, Celaya, and Guanajuato. They were on the point of entering Mexico City when Hidalgo told them to retreat.”
Not long after, Hidalgo was executed, but the movement continued.
Father Hidalgo’s famous grito — or cry to action — that launched the War for Independence is commemorated with a loose re-enactment by the President in Mexico City every September 15. Late in the evening, the President gives a similar speech to a huge gathering in the main plaza — and while there is exact no record of the original speech, the President delivers something that’s at least similar in tone, with his own personal spin. Each president typically mentions Mexican heroes, and ends the speech with a rousing ¡Viva México!, to which the audience responds ¡Viva! The president then rings the bell at the National Palace (the very same bell that Hidalgo rang, now housed at the National Palace). Similar speeches are given by governors and mayors across the country.
The following day, September 16, the celebrations around the country continue with parades, marching bands, and concerts to round-out the celebration.
Where will you be when Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 16? ¡Viva México!
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