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Schools – Named for what is Important

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  • When I first met my blushing bride I learned she had grown up in a neighborhood where all the streets had names only an antebellum Scarlet O’Hara would have chosen like Plantation and Mammy. The three schools in this planned unit development were named for military leaders fighting on the Southern side, aka terrorists trying to destroy the Union. Even the cheerleaders were called Confederettes in their trademark blue and gray mimicking what Confederate soldiers wore.

    Now, lest you think all this happened in some Mississippi bayou, this neighborhood was just across the river from the US capital of Washington DC. I grew up just two hours north, but over the Mason-Dixon line where the Civil War wasn’t discussed in school as it was simply too embarrassing to acknowledge slavery ever existed.

    Since the 1980s nearly every racist named school around DC and beyond has been renamed for a Civil Rights leader. However, it’s a not so gentle reminder that a community names its schools for is what is important to them.

    With that thought in mind, here are San Miguel school names and what they represent:

    Leona Vicario – Member of Los Guadalupes, one of the earliest independence movements from Spain, she financed the rebellion with her large fortune. Driven by strong feminist beliefs, she has been given the title “Distinguished and Beloved Mother of the Homeland”. 2020 was declared Mexico’s Year of Leona Vicario.

    If you visit her school up by the public hospital be sure to ask the principal to dance. She’s one of the most graceful dancers in San Miguel frequently featuring dance expositions for her students to participate in local history and culture!

    Maria del Refugio Aguilar – Born at her parent’s home on the corner of Mesones and Hidalgo where her order of nuns still live, Maria became a wife, mother and widow in quick succession. Then she founded an order to an image of Mary known as Our Lady of Mercy devoted to educating children. Our Lady of Mercy is whom your pals called Mercedes are named for.

    Maria’s daughter later joined the order that now has schools in 12 countries with over 600 nuns.

    The Catholic school along the creek in Colonia Guadalupe is run by Maria’s order. Recently I spent Mother’s Day there watching the various grades perform for their families. The little kids are, of course, adorable. Kindergartners do a skit where a wild bull comes to San Miguel and no one – kings, farmers, politicians, even Satan himself, can get the bull to leave. Then the bull’s Mom comes along reminding all everyone has to do what their mother tells them to.

    The high school kids danced so provocatively that had any of my fellow students at Bishop McDevitt High had talent like that we’d have been pulled off stage for both confession and pregnancy tests. Apparently Maria’s order has more artistic respect than the puritan sisters of St. Joseph that taught me.

    Since 1982 there has been a push to canonize Maria to official sainthood by the Church which would make her San Miguel de Allende’s first saint.

    Cuauhtémoc – The last Aztec Emperor. His name, Cuauhtémoc, means “Descending Eagle”, as in the moment when an eagle folds its wings and plummets down to strike its prey implying aggressiveness and determination.

    Cuauhtémoc is the only Aztec emperor who survived the conquest by the Spanish Empire honored on coins, paintings, music, and popular culture. Cuauhtémoc is also one of the few non-Spanish names for Mexican boys that is perennially popular.

    José Vasconcelos – Growing up on the border he went to school in Texas, becoming bilingual as is his school next to the Fabrica. That term, bilingual, has a different meaning here in that in means English is taught. It which case my high school was tri-lingual as we had classes in English, French and Spanish, but in reality, everyone operated in English.

    Though married, Vasconcelos liked the ladies, many ladies. One troubled relationship led to her suicide inside Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral which was the first time I became aware of anyone killing themselves in a church.

    Vasconcelos was the first secretary of Pubilc Education, a powerful position to implement his vision of Mexico’s history, especially the Mexican Revolution.

    He was no advocate of Mexican indigenous culture, and as Secretary of Education he sent Brazil a statue of the last Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc for their centennial celebrations of independence in 1923, to the puzzlement of the Brazilian recipients.

    With age he became deeply Catholic and politically conservative. Before the Second World War, he wrote, with accuracy, that the use of nuclear weapons might be necessary given the post-war order.

    Fray Pedro de Gante – a Franciscan missionary from Belgium. As a relative of King Charles V he was allowed to travel to the colonies of New Spain as one of the first groups of Franciscan friars. He indoctrinated the indigenous population in Catholicism creating the first school set up by Europeans in the Americas.

    His namesake school is located in Mexiquito and I enjoy hearing the near daily practice sessions of Fray Pedro’s marching band and cheers from their soccer games.

    Ramón López Velarde – Mexico’s national poet whose art is framed by duality, whether it be the Mexican struggle between rural traditions and the new culture of the cities, or his own struggle between asceticism (avoiding physical pleasure to obtain spiritual goals) and pagan sensuality.

    Despite his importance, he remains virtually unknown outside his own country dying, like Jesus, at age 33 following the death of his beloved cousin, 8 years his senior, and the inspiration behind many of his famous love sonnets.

    Emiliano Zapata – Revolutionist and the inspiration of the agrarian movement where the indigenous rights trumped those of wealthy plantation owners over disputed land. He is remembered as a visionary who fought for his countrymen.

    Often depicted on banknotes he is probably better known to foreigners for the award-winning 1952 film, Viva Zapata!, where he was portrayed by a young Marlon Brando.

    Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla – During the planning of independence from Spain it was very important to the insurgents to have a priest on their side. A priest would show the masses it was a war against Spain , not a war against the Church. That priest was Fr. Hidalgo, a very different thinker. He taught the indigenous trades like making the brightly colored pottery still made in his namesake city, Dolores Hidalgo, enabling them to support themselves, an illegal action at the time. He also took certain priestly vows less seriously than others, fathering seven children among three local women.

    It is Fr. Hidalgo, alongside Allende and Josefa, that are the three primary players in the fight for freedom and whom every kindergartner dresses as in mid-September. Allende has the stick horse, Josefa wears pretty traditional clothing and Fr. Hidalgo has the long, gray hair and clerical garb.

    Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez – the wife of the Spanish appointed mayor of Queretaro she fought for independence against Spain. Mother of 14 she opposed the oppressive Spanish colonial government in favor of the indigenous and mixed races.

    Organizing political meetings under the guise of book clubs she became pals with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Ignacio Allende, it was she that got the news that Spaniards were aware of the plans to Hidalgo and Allende officially starting the war of Independence.

    After the war of independence, Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide offered Josefa the role of lady-in-waiting for his wife. However, Josefa believed the establishment of a Mexican Empire, instead of a Republic, was against the ideals she had fought for during the revolutionary period, and she refused the honor. She always refused any reward from her involvement in the independence movement arguing that she was only doing her duty as a patriot.

    At her school and in the Allende Institute murals depicting the War for Independence she is the only character seen twice. Often facing each other as she is the only insurgent to survive the war and see Mexico once it was free from Spain.

    Francisco Javier Mina – Nicknamed “The Student” for his lengthy academic career. He battled the French in Europe on the side of the Spanish crown then came to the Americas to battle the crown on the side of Mexico helping gain freedom from Spain. He was caught and killed at 28.

    Niños Héroes – Six teenage military cadets that died defending Mexico City‘s Chapultepec Castle from invading U.S. forces in the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican–American War. According to legend, in an act of bravery, Juan Escutia wrapped the Mexican flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the Americans. Schools are named for the cadets both singularly and as a group.

    Justo Sierra – Made significant contributions to the writing of Mexican history. His texts on pre-revolutionary Mexico continued to be used in Mexican public schools even after the Mexican Revolution. His school is one of few smack dab in the middle of centro, just off the jardin.


    El Nigromante born Ignacio Ramírez on Umaran he expanded public education, including education for women and indigenous, and creating public secondary education.

    A well-publicized atheist and former mayor of San Miguel known to this day as leaving the cleanest set of accounting books ever when he left office!


    You, like me, may be beyond the point of having your own kids in school but it is always wise to know what, exactly, is important enough to name schools for in your neighborhood!




    by Joseph Toone

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