Benito Juarez is undoubtedly one of the most important and revered figures in Mexican history. Each March 21st marks the anniversary of his birth and every elementary school in the country commemorates the man who consolidated the nation as a republic.
Of indigenous origin, Benito Pablo Juarez Garcia, was born in 1806 in a village called San Pablo Guelatao, surrounded by the hills of Ixtlan, Oaxaca. His parents, humble Zapotec peasants, died when he was just three years old, so his grandparents cared for him during much of his childhood.
At an early age, Benito realized that in order to succeed, he would need to learn Spanish and then enter school, so he didn’t learn to read and write until he was 12. In 1818, he emigrated by his own means to the city of Oaxaca, in search of fortune. He enrolled in school, but was constantly discriminated against because of his indigenous origin and his little knowledge of the Spanish language.
Thanks to a very strong will and despite not sharing the religious ideas of the time, he decided to attend the city’s seminary to take advantage of the classes offered to people who spoke an indigenous language. He took lessons in Latin, philosophy, and theology, but was convinced, however, that priesthood was not his calling.
After a series of discussions with his chief mentor, Antonio Salanueva, who since his arrival in Oaxaca supported him in all his studies; Juarez left the seminary and decided to study a degree in Law at Oaxaca’s Institute of Science and Arts.
As a law student, he learned French, English and mastered Latin. He was a great student of Civil and Canonical Law and was greatly esteemed by teachers and peers to such an extent that he was appointed rector of the Institute in 1831, professing and openly advocating liberal ideas and defending indigenous communities in the region.