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16 de Septiembre: El Grito de Independencia

Mexican Independence Day

by May Herz

2011 was the year of the Bicentennial Celebrations in Mexico. This wonderful country commemorated   200 years of Independence  from Spanish rule and 100 years of  its Revolution that began in 1910 and toppled dictator Porfirio Diaz.

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 TeotihuacanMaya,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.

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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.

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 form Spain.

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