Mexican Independence Day celebrates the revolutionary cry issued Sept. 16, 1810, for Mexico’s freedom from Spain. This call to action took place in the town of Dolores when the Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, encouraged peasants to fight for their rights. Mexican Independence Day is an annual event that remembers the Grito de Dolores as the revolutionary call that signaled the beginning of the end of Spanish rule and racial discrimination. After years of revolts throughout Spanish America, the “Cry” or Grito de Dolores launched the Mexican War of Independence.
Prior to the revolution, Mexico had been under Spanish control for 300 years. The explorer and soldier, Hernán Cortés, first conquered the territory after overthrowing the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521. King Charles V of Spain then had Cortés build the capital city, Mexico City, on the same spot. The new territory was named New Spain and Cortés was appointed by the king as its first governor.
Criollos, those of Spanish descent but born in New Spain, held a privileged position in society although not quite as high as the Spanish born in Spain. The indigenous people and the mestizos, or those of mixed European and Indian heritage, did not have certain civil rights. Members of the upper classes from Spain redistributed the lands among themselves that had belonged to the Aztecs and other Indians. The lower classes lived in poverty.
In Spain, Napoleon ordered the monarchy into exile in 1808 and placed his brother, Joseph, on the throne. Unrest in the colonies grew. Miguel Hidalgo, a criollo by birth, was the parish priest in the small town of Dolores, Guanajuato. His parishioners were poor and the injustices against them were getting worse. Hidalgo, with the help of other leaders including the Spanish army captain, Ignacio Allende, planned an uprising for Dec. 8, 1810. He learned on Sept. 15, 1810, that officials had discovered their plans. The next morning, Sept. 16, he rang the church bell, summoning the peasants to the courtyard. Hidalgo gave his Grito de Dolores, calling for them to take back the land from the Spanish, to end racial inequality, defend their religion, and to end 300 years of Spanish rule. The fight for Mexican independence had begun.
Even though Mexico’s independence from Spain was not achieved until Sept. 27, 1821, it is the date of Hidalgo’s speech that is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day. The celebration first begins the night before Mexico’s Independence Day. It is customary for the president of Mexico to stand on the balcony of the National Palace of Mexico City and recite the Grito de Dolores at 11:00 p.m. on Sept. 15, re-enacting that famous revolutionary call to freedom. The original bell that was rung at the church in Dolores was moved to the palace and placed above the center balcony. It is rung at the beginning of the celebration and again after the call honoring those who fought for Mexico’s independence. States and cities throughout Mexico also recite Hidalgo’s cry. Festivities on Independence Day include parades, concerts, patriotic programs and marching band competitions.
The town of Dolores was renamed Dolores Hidalgo in honor of the priest. The name of Mexico replaced New Spain after the end of the War of Independence. Monuments of Hidalgo carrying the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe and paintings of him leading the peasant army are in various cities. Murals by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Juan O’Gorman and others are in several government buildings. Mexican Independence Day is the celebration and remembrance of those who fought for their rights, who heard a priest’s Grito de Dolores, and heeded the revolutionary call of patriotism.
By Cynthia Collins
Photo credit of Hidalgo monument and church: Paige Morrison – creative commons license