Viva Mexico! Celebrate Mexico’s Independence on September 15th and 16th

Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, the nation of Mexico and Mexicans located throughout the world will celebrate the independence from Spain on September 15th and 16th.  Communities are brightly decorated with the Mexican flag and its colors of red, white and green.

Many people in the USA mistakenly think that May 5th or Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s national holiday.  Cinco de Mayo, however, commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army in 1862.  It is a regional holiday, celebrated in the State of Puebla where the battle took place.

The “El Grito de la Indepedencia” (Cry of Independence) is held annually on September 16thin honor of Mexico’s declaration of independence from Spanish rule in 1810. In the early hours of September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest in the small town of Dolores, Guanajuato, rang the church bell to gather the townspeople.  He called for the people of Mexico to rise up against the Spanish Crown, thus initiating Mexico’s War of Independence.  The country did not achieve independence until 1821. 

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

This event, known as the “Grito de Dolores” (Cry of Dolores) or “El Grito de la Independencia” (Cry of Independence) is commemorated every year in town squares across Mexico.  On September 15th, at 11 p.m. the President of the Republic goes out onto the central balcony of the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), rings the bell (the same bell Hidalgo rang in 1810, brought to Mexico City in 1886) and cries to the people gathered in the square below, who enthusiastically respond “¡Viva!” (It lives!)

What caused the revolt?  The indigenous people, of course, were the first to inhabit the land that is now known as Mexico.  In 1521, about 500 Spanish soldiers arrived in Mexico, headed by Hernán Cortés, thus beginning three centuries of Spanish rule. The new colony was named Nueva España, New Spain.

During the colonial period, the Spanish developed a complex caste system based on race, which was used for social and economic control, and which also determined a person’s importance and privilege in society. There were four main categories of race: (1) European (Spaniards); (2) Indigenous; (3) Mestizos (mixed); and (4) Africans. A Spaniard born in Spain, a Peninsular, had a higher social standing than a Crillo (Creole in English), a person of Spanish descent born in the New World. The privileged were the Peninsular Spaniards.  The combination and blend of these races is called “mestizo” (mixed).  By the 18th Century the class of Mestizo broke down into as many as 16 different racial categories.

Discontent steadily grew, especially amongst the Criollos, who were always treated as second-class subjects of the Spanish Crown.  It is no surprise that Criollos were the spark that ignited the Independence movement and the fight for human rights.   Miguel Hidalgo formally denounced the observance of the caste system in 1810 and people of all races were able to see that putting up a fight for their independence was worth it.

Trade restrictions also contributed to the revolt. The vast Spanish New World produced many goods, including coffee, cacao, textiles, wine, minerals and more, but the colonies were only allowed to trade with Spain, and at rates advantageous for Spanish merchants. Many took to selling their goods illegally to British and American merchants.  Spain was eventually forced to loosen some trade restrictions, but the move was too little, too late.

In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain, and decided to impose his brother José Bonaparte, as King of Spain (1808-1810).  The Criollos found in this circumstance the opportunity to seek their independence. The chaos in Spain made the perfect excuse to rebel and yet not commit treason: many said they were loyal to Spain, not Napoleon.

Come and celebrate Independence Day in Zihuatanejo on September 15th and 16th. Or, if you’re in a faraway place, take out those Mexican recipes and have a fiesta.  Viva Mexico!

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