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When I was growing up in the small city of Guanajuato, a high point of the year was the celebration of Mexican Independence Day, which kicks off the evening of September 15 with the official celebration of the “grito.”
Mexican Independence Day has been celebrated for centuries on September 15 and 16 throughout Mexico and other parts of the world that have a large population of Mexican nationals. It is special to me because it originated with events that occurred in 1810 in my home State of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.
When I was young, my friends and I would gather with the rest of the town at the Alhondiga de Granaditas. A massive stone building, the Alhondiga first housed a granary, but was also a jail and is now a history museum. As you will see, the building has great historic relevance to Mexican Independence.
The mayor, government officials, and other VIPs would be seated on a stage, while everyone else would try to find a spot on the stairs. In the VIP area, we would get drinks and taquitos, sopes, huaraches, and other delicious Mexican “antojitos.” In the general section, there would be vendors with Mexican flags and all sorts of refreshments and food. Some years I got to sit on the stage because of my boyfriend’s family connections, but other years I preferred to sit with everyone else and enjoy the laughter, dancing, and general fun.
The plaza would be filled with people who are ready to take part in the “grito.” The mayor would open the grito by calling:
¡Viva la Independencia Nacional! [Long live the Independence!]
¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron Patria! [Long live the heroes that gave us our motherland!]
¡Viva Hidalgo! [Long live Hidalgo!]
¡Viva Morelos! [Long live Morelos!]
¡Viva Allende! [Long live Allende!]
¡Viva México! [Long live Mexico!]
When the Mayor yelled Viva Mexico! we would all yell: Viva Mexico! as loud as we could in response.
After the “grito,” the city would put on a fireworks display. We would then go to the Discotheque, for a night of dancing to all sorts of Mexican music.
In Mexico then and now, we generally spend the evening of September 15 with friends and the community. We don’t have house parties; instead, we go to the central plaza of our city or town and celebrate with friends and strangers alike.
On September 16, a huge military parade takes place in the Zocalo, the Central Plaza in Mexico City. The President of Mexico presides over this parade. Smaller cities also hold parades.
When I was in elementary school, we would put on our school uniform and march in the parade. Every school has an “escolta” or honor guard of six children that marches at the front and carries the flag. The best students in the sixth grade get to be part of the honor guard. Some schools have marching bands.
My school was very small and didn’t have its own marching band, so we had to walk in step with our rival school which marched ahead of us. When you march in front of the Mayor, you turn and salute. We practiced the marching and the salute for several weeks before the parade.
I am so old that I don’t have any pictures of when I marched in the parade (there was no social media then!), but it has not changed! I was able to track down a photo of a friend’s mother riding in a local parade many years ago:
How the Fight for Independence Began
In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain, intending to install his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. Mexican-born Spaniards (called criollos) did not want to live under French rule and began plotting an uprising, which eventually merged with an independence movement that was already under way.
In September 1810, a criollo priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and his co-conspirators heard that they soon would be arrested. It was time to spark the armed movement! Miguel Hidalgo, considered the father of the Mexican Independence, ran to his church in the city of Dolores (now called Dolores Hidalgo in his honor) and rang the bell on September 16, 1810, calling on the people to unite and take arms. Today, the same bell, and other bells representing it, are rung every Mexican Independence Day to commemorate this historic event.
The Mexican people took up arms and the armed insurrection began. On September 28, 1810 the armed insurrectionists reached the city of Guanajuato, the capital of the State. The Spaniards rushed to fortify themselves in the Alhondiga de Granaditas. According to legend, the insurrectionists could not breach the Alhondiga because the Spaniards were firing at them from the roof and windows. However, a brave young man, nicknamed “el Pípila” took one of the stone slabs from the sidewalk and carried it on his back to protect himself. He approached the wooden door of the Alhondiga and set it on fire! This allowed the insurrectionists to take over the fortification and obtain their first big victory in an armed conflict that lasted 11 years.
When Mexico achieved its independence on September 27, 1821, the country did not immediately become a democratic Republic. This was the beginning of the first Mexican Empire. The Republic as we know it today was not founded until 1824, when Mexico signed its first Constitution.
I hope you all get a chance to eat some delicious Mexican food on September 16, and when you do, I hope you will join me in saying: Viva Mexico!