On September 16, Mexicans around the globe celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence from Spain. The day is marked by a national holiday in Mexico, a reenactment of a historic moment from the revolution’s leader, and an array of performances from fireworks to dance routines.
Often confused with Cinco de Mayo by people living in the United States, Mexico’s independence day actually marks the moment in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest known as Father Hidalgo, made the first cry for independence. After a moving speech in the Mexican town of Dolores, Hidalgo took up the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic image of the Virgin Mary as she appears to Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican believer who was later sainted by the church.
“Independence commemorates the beginning [of the struggle],” says Elena Albarrán, associate professor of history and global and intercultural studies at Miami University in Ohio. “In this case, you celebrate the moment of insurgency, the possibility, and the hope.”
A decade-long struggle
As Hidalgo took up the banner of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, many people were inspired to follow him. Albarrán says they amassed a large, unruly, hodgepodge army that included women, children, grandparents, and livestock. Untrained and difficult to control, it was eventually defeated, with many of its members going back home to harvest their fields.
Hidalgo was defrocked as a priest by the Spanish Inquisition, says William Beezley, professor of history at the University of Arizona. He was later beheaded by the civil government as punishment for revolting, and his head was displayed in Guanajuato, where he and his army were charged with causing a massacre.
Another priest, José María Morelos, took up the mantle of revolution, sending home anyone from the first army without a weapon and horse. Beezley says this tighter version of the army was more effective, but Morelos was also eventually taken before the Inquisition and beheaded—and the struggle for independence sunk into a period of chaos as Mexico continued to fight a weakening Spanish rule.
San Miguel Times