Mexican Independence and The Founding of Modern Mexico

15th of September. The streets are filled with proud children waving their green, red and white flags, their parents proud to remember the old heroes of Mexico: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the old priest and his co-conspirators;[1] the great men and women of Mexico who defeated the Spanish and brought to an end the decadent rule of the Spanish. On this day each year the chaos of Mexico is brought together as one; the great eagle of the ancients stands tall and proud.

Today is a happy day. Markets are filled with sweet delights of panqué (a type of muffin) and grillos (crickets), remnants of the Olmec, the Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltec, and of course the most powerful of all, the Aztec Empire. In 1519, around 500 Spaniards arrived in Mexico seeking to pillage Aztec gold and riches.[2] They were met with fear and awe, the Aztec king Moctezuma II believing Hernán Cortés, the leader of the Spanish to be the second coming of the powerful Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.[3] The Tlaxcalans[4] were angry and dissatisfied with the heavy taxes and constant encroachment upon their land imposed on them by the Aztecs[5] so they joined forces with the new conquerors against the powerful Aztec empire based in the city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

On the 13th of August 1521, Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor was captured and the indigenous allies of the Spaniards raided Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire.[6] The people of Mexico had been liberated from one oppressor but now had fallen into the hands of one that was much crueler. This was the beginning of three centuries of Spanish rule. The new colony was named Nueva España.

Along side the columns that hold the modern state of Mexico together now, including the common language of Spanish and the Catholic Church the conquerors brought with them devastating diseases previously unknown to the native population.[7] Epidemics and the merciless workload imposed upon them wiped out nearly 90% of the native population in the Americas after only a century of foreign rule. The old religious systems and social structures were also almost completely destroyed. The most obvious example of this is Mexico City cathedral which is built upon the foundations of an the Templo Mayor, the site where legends say that Aztec god Huitzilopochtli showed the Mexica people (pronounced: meːˈʃiʔkaʔ) the eagle perched upon the nopal cactus, eating a viscious snake: the omen that signified where the great city of Mexico would be built.

The new 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 indigenous people.[8] This racist system lead to the steady growth of discontent and the Independence movement of Mexico was ignited. Inspired 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 revolted. In the early hours of September 16, 1810, father Hidalgo, accompanied by several conspirators 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. This is our celebration.

And on this day, September 15th 2011 El Grito is reenacted all over Mexico, from the balcony of the presidential palace to small squares of the provincial pueblos. The night reaches euphoric proportions at 11.00pm when the president cries the call of Independence, ringing the original bell of Miguel Hidalgo. The crowd joins in, VIVA MEXICO! Flags adorn every street corner and green, white and red can be seen at every glance. Every square sells ponche, guayabas, cake and pancakes and the smell of Mexican traditional dishes permeates the air with chile en nogada and mole poblano. This is time to celebrate. This is time for the family. Schools sing the national anthem and happy drunks walk hand in hand with their lovers. The tequila flows and the country is one.

For one day we were united.

References:

[1] For more information on Mexican heroes: http://www.mexonline.com/history.htm [2] Marley, D. Wars of the Americas: a chronology of armed conflict in the New World, 1492 (ABC-CLIO, 1998: Santa Barbara, CA) pg. 17

[3] Scholarly writing on this subject is undecided. Writers such as David Carrasco (1982) supports this view. However there are many scholars of Mesoamerican history whom argue that this myth arose after the early post conquest period including Matthew Restall (2003).

Carrasco, D. Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire: Myths and Prophecies in the Aztec Tradition. (Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 1982)

Restall, M. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. (Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press: 2003)

[4] Tlaxcala is a state around 120km from Mexico City.

[5] Schmal, J.P, The History of the Tlaxcalans (2004) http://www.houstonculture.org/mexico/tlaxcala.html (Retrieved 14/09/2011)

[6] Marley, D. (1998) p. 17

[7] http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/smallpox.html

[8]Carrera, M.M. Imagining identity in New Spain: race, lineage, and the colonial body in portraiture and casta paintings (University of Texas Press, Texas: 2003)

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