16 de Septiembre: El Grito de Independencia
by Jose Pablo Olvera
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 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, the 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 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.
Streets, houses, buildings, and cars are decorated everywhere in the country. On every street corner, there are vendors selling flags, balloons, sombreros and rehiletes -shuttlecock, all with the green, white and red, our National Colors.
Flags wave from practically every house and building.
Lighted decorations are set up in every city, the most spectacular being those of the Zócalo, main plaza, in Mexico City. This main plaza of every town and city is the place where the great 16 De Septiembre celebrations take place. People of all ages come to this fiesta, to take part in the collective gaiety!
Food is always a very important part of these festivities. Literarily hundreds of stands are set up several days before and offer the traditional antojitos, most aptly described as a variety of finger foods, Mexican candies, and punch. Punch. ponche, is a drink made of fruits that are in season: guavas, sugarcane, raisins and apples, and such a delicious aroma!
During September, Mes de la Patria, the month of our nation as it is called in Mexico, restaurants serve traditional Mexican dishes, such as Mole Poblano, Chiles en Nogada, Guacamole, and chips.
During the evening of September 15, people start gathering in the zócalo. Many people walk around dressed in typical Mexican dress: men as Charros and women as China Poblanas, or indigenous dresses. Those who don’t own a typical outfit, at least dress find something to wear in the colors of the flag.
Live Mariachi Music bands play to the delight of all present. There are also photography stands where one can have a picture taken, attired with a sombrero and atop a wooden horse!
The euphoria is collective and all are prepared to shout, yell and make as much noise as possible with fake trumpets, noisemakers, and whistles!
As the evening advances, the plaza gradually fills with more and more people; suddenly there is practically no room to move. Excitement and euphoria reach a crescendo at the culminating moment when a government official arrives in the zócalo, at 11:00 P.M. to give the grito or cry of Independence. This ritual recreates the moment in which Father Hidalgo, gathered his followers in Dolores Guanajuato.
It is customary for our President to deliver the grito in Mexico City’s zócalo. It is in this plaza, a top Palacio Nacional, the National Palace -a beautiful colonial building where the President’s offices are located, that the original bell rung by Hidalgo is placed. And this is the bell that is rung
every 16th of September.
The ceremony reaches the high point when the crowd joins in proudly shouting out the names of the heroes of our Independence, to end with the exciting VIVA MÉXICO!
When the grito ceremony ends, the sky lights up with multicolored rockets that shower our hearts with the pride of knowing that we are a free and independent nation.