Editor’s note: this really is my frig. I’m ready for El Grito. Most in USA up their beer intake during Cinco de Mayo, but, are clueless about Mexican Independence Day. Hernán Cortés is my favorite character of Mexican history, because he’s the conqueror that discovered the Island of Baja. Those with good eyes may notice the red, white and blue cans, middle shelf, rear. ¡SALUDOS!
El Grito every 16th of September is the Mexican Fiesta par excellence! On this day Mexicans all over the world celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule.
As you know, indigenous peoples were the first to inhabit what is now known as Mexico. They created great civilizations such as the Olmec, the Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltec, and of course the most powerful of all, the Aztec Empire.
After Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, the Spaniards carried out expeditions to find gold and riches from these faraway lands. In 1521, about 500 Spanish soldiers arrived in Mexico, headed by an ambitious man: Hernán Cortés. At this time, the Aztecs had built a great empire that ruled over all Mesoamérica. So the Spaniards decided to direct their attacks towards them.
The indigenous nations that were under the Aztec rule were tired of the physical and economic hardships imposed upon them by this empire. This circumstance made them think that by helping the Conquerors defeat the Aztecs, they would be better off. So they decided to aid the Spaniards.
This is how the Conquest of what is now Mexico began.
On the 13th of August 1521, Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor was captured. The indigenous allies of the Spaniards raided Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire.
They didn’t know it at the time, but they had been liberated from one oppressor and fallen in the hands of a much more powerful authoritarian.
This was the beginning of three centuries of Spanish rule. The new colony was named Nueva España, New Spain.
The years that followed were devastating. The conquerors brought with them diseases unknown to the natives. The epidemics that broke out as well as the merciless workload imposed upon the natives dramatically diminished the Indian population. There were approximately 20 million Indians inhabiting this territory before the Conquest, and after just one century of Spanish rule there were only 1 million left!
Colonial society was highly stratified. Spaniards born in Spain, occupied the higher echelons, followed by Criollos, those born in Mexico from Spanish parents; Mestizos, the mix- blood offspring of Spaniards and Natives; Indios, Native Indians; Negros, African slaves. Ed note: this pigmentocracy still exists.
Each socio-ethnic group had different rights and duties. The privileged were the peninsular Spaniards. Discontent steadily grew, especially amongst the Criollos, who were always treated as second-class subjects of the Spanish Crown. It is no surprise then, that Criollos were the spark that ignited the Independence movement.
In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain, and decided to impose his brother José Bonaparte, as king of Spain (1808-1810). The Criollos found in this circumstance the opportunity to seek their independence from Spain.
Influenced by the concepts of liberty, equality and democracy proposed by the French philosophers Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and by the war of Independence of the United States, they decided to start a revolt. It was 1810, and their plan was to start the war on the 2nd of October. Unfortunately, their plans were discovered in early September. The movement was in trouble. They had two alternatives; either abandon their plans, or move faster and start the revolt immediately. Fortunately for our country they decided upon the second alternative.
In the early hours of September 16, 1810, father Hidalgo, accompanied by several conspirators –Iganacio Allende, Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez– rang the bell of his little church, calling everyone to fight for liberty. This was the beginning of the Independence War, which lasted 10 years.
And this is the moment that every 16th of September is re enacted in every plaza or zócalo of Mexico, and commemorated by Mexicans all over the world.