Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez: A Heroine of the Struggle for Mexican Independence

By: Katherine O’Dell Ellis.

Independence Day in Mexico is celebrated beginning in the late evening of September 15, when the President of Mexico rings the bell of the National Palace in Mexico City and then shouts the Grito Mexicano. The Grito includes the names of the important heroes of the War of Independence and ends with shouting of “¡Viva México!” three times, which is repeated by the crowd outside the palace.

This annual event is witnessed by up to half a million spectators from Mexico and across the world. The Grita de Independencia is also shouted from town squares and city halls throughout the country, including Zihuatanejo. Many towns, including Zihuatanejo, hold parades on September 16, honoring the heroes of the revolution. There are many well-known heroes of the Mexican war for independence, but there were also heroines–women who played a part in the revolution. One of them, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, is depicted in a statue created by Arturo Macias Armenta.

Josepha Ortiz de Dominguez

The statue of Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez is displayed in the Templo Maya, a collection of Tania Scales in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero.

Born in Mexico of parents from Spain, Josefa identified herself as “Mexican” not Spanish; she loved the indigenous people and she wanted independence for her country. She married Miguel Dominguez and became mother of fourteen children.

Josefa thumbnail

Throughout her life, Josefa was very sympathetic with the plight of the indigenous, mestizo, and criollo communities of Mexico, and she worked closely with them, trying to overcome the injustices they experienced. In colonial Mexico, Spaniards born in Spain were the ruling class. People born in Mexico to Spanish parents were called criollos and had less power and fewer rights. Mestizos, or people of mixed race, were regarded as inferior.

Many people are not aware that as many as 500,000 black people from Africa were brought to Mexico as slaves during colonial times. Intermarriage between blacks and indigenous peoples was encouraged by the colonial powers. The mixed race offspring of these unions were not allowed to marry people of Spanish heritage. This led to a very complex caste system, which included sixteen different categories, and Spanish priests actually assigned babies to a caste at birth. (Reference:http://www.FreedomPathways.org)

In the sculpture, Josefa is depicted with a Spanish hairstyle, the flag of Spain behind her, and a broken chain. While living in Queretaro with her husband, Josefa began attending secret meetings where revolutionary ideas were discussed, and she eventually convinced her husband to hold meetings in their home, where the seeds of the revolution were sown.

The beginning of the revolution was planned for December 8, 1810; however, on September 13, the conspirators were betrayed. As Corregidor of Queretaro, Miguel Domínguez was asked to conduct a house search in the town in order to apprehend the rebel leaders. Aware of his wife’s allegiance, he imprisoned Josefa in her room to prevent her from exchanging information with her fellow conspirators. Josefa had anticipated this, and she had arranged a signal to alert her co-conspirators that they had been betrayed. By stomping three times on the floor of the room where she was imprisoned, she summoned one of the conspirators, who was able to warn the others that arrest orders had been issued for them.

Thus it was decided to begin the revolution immediately, and the famous “Grito de Dolores” rang out in the town square. This was the start of the peasant and criollo rebellion–and it was Josefa who gave the signal. Both she and her husband were eventually imprisoned for their roles in the revolution.

In 1822, Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide offered Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez the role of lady-in-waiting for his wife, Ana María de Huarte y Muñiz. Josefa, however, believed the establishment of a Mexican empire, instead of a republic, was against the ideals for which she had fought during the revolutionary period, and she refused the honor. In 1823, she was designated a “woman of honor” by the empress, a tribute that she also declined. During the late years of her life, Ortiz de Domínguez was involved with several radical political groups. She always refused any reward from her involvement in the independence movement, arguing that she was only doing her duty as a patriot.

An intriguing detail of the sculpture is the list of names of the thirteen co-conspirators. While we know very little about these women, we do know that they existed and are an important part of this history of Mexico’s struggle for independence.

Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez

Referenced Articles:

The Racial Caste System in Colonial Spanish Mexico | Pathways to Freedom in the Americas

Colonial Mexico and Colonial America: Comparable Characteristics | Pathways to Freedom in the Americas

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