Monday, September 15, 2008
Tonight begins the Celebration of Mexican Independence Day. That’s right: cross Cinco de Mayo off your calendars – it is nothing compared to Quince de Septiembre.
For tonight is the true Noche Mexicana, the time of the Fiestas Patrias, when the heroes of 1810 and 1910 are remembered almost 200 years later. Walk down any street for the last three weeks and you will find the red-white-and-green of the Mexican flag being sold on street corners in every size and variation (my favorite are the inflatable helium balloons shaped like flags), massive tri-colored banners hanging from every building, and full-size flags hanging out the backs of taxis as they whip around corners and stall in traffic. The orgullo – pride – is everywhere.
And then there is el grito (the cry). El grito! Now, look: These national myths are always a little oversimplified, of course. Rosa Parks is justifiably an icon, but she was merely the symbol for a much wider and highly organized movement. So keep in mind that the real history is probably more complex. But still, an icon is an icon – they’re important. And this one…
One-hundred-and-ninety-eight years ago Miguel Hidalgo was a Catholic priest doing ministry with indigenous Mexicans in a small town several hours northwest of Mexico City. On September 15, 1810, near midnight, he started ringing the bells of the church to call the people to action. That’s right – a priest is credited with starting the revolution.
Here is what Hidalgo said that night (taken from a pamphlet we were given today):
I have been your priest and your protector for seven long years. Together we have made a community of which we all have a right to be proud. Together we planted mulberry trees and grapevines, raised silkworms, and made wine, in spite of the Spaniards’ opposition. Together we put up our factory where pottery and leather goods are produced. Always, as you well know, I have been your friend. Always I have zealously defended the poor and the oppressed. When the Spaniards came and uprooted our trees, because of the competition, I protested with all my might, but it was in vain. Finally the time has come for us to unite and rise up against our oppressors, both yours and mine. So now in the name of our beautiful land, and in the name of our beloved Virgin of Guadalupe, let us take back the lands that were stolen from Mexico three centuries ago.
And then he cried the immortal words which are repeated this night by the President of Mexico, officially, and by millions of Mexicans everywhere: Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe, viva Mexico, y muerte a los gachupines!!!!!!! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe, long live Mexico, and death to the Spaniards!!!!!!!
Then, proudly carrying the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe ahead of them, the crowd began the march to Guanajuato, the nearest city. Tens of thousands join them on their way. The revolution had begun.
Within a year of the grito Hidalgo’s head was on a pole as a warning to other potential revolutionaries. But the rebellion could not be stopped. It would not end until 11 bloody years had passed. And even after that Mexico still had to struggle. Twenty years after the war for independence ended, Mexico had to suffer the invasion of the United States (all the way to Mexico City!) in 1847 which included the surrender of a full third of its land to the U.S., and then twenty years after that the imposition of French rule in 1860, and then twenty years after that the rule of Porfirio Diaz who felt the need to hold the presidential office for forty years. Mexico needed another revolution in 1910 to kick out the Porfiriatos, so on this night the heroes of 1910 are remembered, too. And then, of course, there are those still fighting for change, who are hoping that the coming of the year 2010 might spur on, if not another bloody revolution, at least a symbol of much-needed social change…
But enough of that. Tonight is a time for celebration. It’s a little awkard for the visiting American, of course, but I’m not missing out on a national fiesta! I’ve been wearing my red-white-and-green Mexican National Team soccer jersey all day. This evening we ate pozole, the traditional food of the fiestas patrias – it’s like a kind of hominy soup, but you put in red salsa and green lettuce and white sour cream and crunchy tostadas – it’s like a party in your soup!! In a few minutes we’ll leave the Lutheran Center to head to a local barrio (neighborhood) to celebrate the grito with a local community. But even now I can already hear booming fireworks of celebration beginning outside….