AP Photo/Guillermo Arias
Children play in front of the town hall during Mexico's independence festivities in Ciudad
Mexico, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009.

Mexico Commemorates 199 Years of Independence

September 16, 2009 03:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain today. Festivities are taking place both domestically and in the United States.

Sept. 16, 1810: “El Grito de Dolores” Is Heard

Contrary to popular belief, the celebration of Mexican independence does not correspond with Cinco de Mayo, an event that commemorates General Ignacio Zaragoza’s victory over the French in 1862. Rather, Mexico began its fight for independence from Spanish rule on Sept.16, 1810, when Father Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest, started a revolt against the Spaniards. The Spaniards had held power over Mexico, then known as New Spain, for three centuries.

As explains, Father Hidalgo rang the bell of his church in the village of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, to call people to arms. With the passionate cry of “Mexicanos, Viva Mexico!” (Mexicans, long live Mexico!), now known as “El Grito de Dolores” (“The Dolores Cry”), Father Hidalgo rallied mestizos and Indians in a violent class struggle against the privileged Spanish, giving way to a War of Independence that lasted for 10 years.

Mexico did not gain its independence until 1821, after both the Mexican-born Spaniards (criollos) and the Catholic Church joined the movement for independence. Still, “El Grito de Dolores” is commemorated every year in squares around the country as the “crucial and impulsive action that was the catalyst for the country's bloody struggle for independence from Spain,” according to

Independence Day Celebrations in Mexico and Abroad

The largest, most traditional Independence Day celebration takes place in the Zocalo (town square) in Mexico City. For the month of September, the Zocalo is decorated with lights and flags with the Mexican colors: red, white and green. As explains, at 11 p.m. on Sept. 15, “the President of the Republic goes out onto the central balcony of the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), rings the bell (the same bell Hidalgo rang in 1810, brought to Mexico City in 1886) and cries to the people gathered in the square below, who enthusiastically respond ‘¡Viva!’” The celebrations continue on Sept.16 and include parades and civic ceremonies catering to all age groups in the community.

Mexican Independence Day is also celebrated in the United States, particularly in areas with large Mexican populations, such as California and Texas. The festivities in Veterans Memorial Park in Napa Valley, Calif., for instance, include food, music, dancing and entertainment for children, Carlos Villatoro reports for the Napa Valley Register.

Similarly, celebrations at the Mexican Independence Day Fiesta at Riverland Community College in Austin, Texas, focus on dancing as a cultural tribute. “We didn’t want them to forget their traditions of back home,” Miguel Garate, multicultural students adviser at Riverland, told the Austin Daily Herald.

According to David E. Hayes-Bautista, reporting for New America Media, “Celebrating Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16 is an old American tradition, one that stretches back nearly two centuries, including during the American Civil War.” In 1864, four years into the American Civil War, a Mexican Independence Day celebration was organized by Juan N. Leal in Marysville, Calif. The local Latino community and the Mexican Lancers, a Spanish-speaking military company, gathered at a Mexican flag to celebrate “freedom and democracy,” and to show their “patriotic support for Lincoln and the Union.”

Related Topic: Celebrations clouded by tragedy

Yesterday’s Independence Day celebrations in Mexico were obscured by the memory of the eight revelers killed last year in a shocking grenade attack on the public by drug traffickers,” Gustavo Ruiz and Olga R. Rodriguez report for The Associated Press.

As the AP explains, last year’s attack occurred “during the traditional ‘grito,’ or shout of independence shortly before midnight. [Governor Leonel] Godoy had just finished yelling “Viva Mexico!” from a balcony, when two grenades exploded simultaneously in the crowd, blocks apart.” Three men belonging to the “Zetas, a group of hit men tied to the Gulf cartel,” were subsequently arrested.

This year, many cities took extra precautions to protect revelers participating in the festivities. In Mexico City, for instance, more than 10,000 police officers were in charge of guarding the Zocalo, checking revelers with metal detectors before allowing them to access the area.

In Ciudad Juarez, near the Texas border, police officers and soldiers patrolled festivities and searched people at random. Still, the violence persisted in other parts of the city. According to the AP, five people were shot at a car wash on Tuesday and 10 others were killed on Monday.

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