As a proud son of the land that we call Mexico, this is a neat day for me. Every year, the Mexican prez holds a ceremony to commemorate El Grito De Dolores each September 15th, the day before Independence Day. It’s probably the most important speech in Mexican history, but there’s one problem: nobody knows what the exact words are. Of course, everybody knows the gist of it: Mexicans should rise and throw off the yoke of Iberian repression. Sure, it took more than ten years, lots of dead guys and somebody whose name rhymes with “Turdibide” taking over but it was worth it, right?
So, what the hell does the speech mean in the larger scheme of things?
We’re here to kick ass and till the fields. And harvest time is almost over.
Before that is answered, we’ll have to take a trip back in the early 1800’s. Mexico (or Nueva España for the historically minded) was getting pretty tired of Spain milling around like it owned the damn place, which uh, it kinda did.
Well, actually, that’s not really the case; a lot of people were perfectly fine with 19th century facsimiles of Diego Luna running around with those badass culottes. In fact, the war could probably be described as a civil war. But in 1810, many in Mexico reached a breaking point and all they needed was one spark. His name was El Chavo… no, wait, uh, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. But a man can dream.
On September 16th, 1810, Father Hidalgo addressed his flock. He spoke of the need to rid the land of bad government, to be free and to rid themselves of the Gachupines. The crowd roared to action and took up arms. Then they got their asses horribly kicked by the Spanish and Hidalgo was predictably killed. Whoa, Spain what the hell is the matter with you?!
Actually, the Spanish had good reason to be scared: Gachupines was a word that was used as an insult for Spaniards. The undertones of the speech were populist and intolerant. The elites were genuinely frightened of the prospect of masses of peasants who wished to rule one of Spain’s jewels. The war was on. For years the rebels got beat down after beat down. But not all was lost: Vicente Guerrero was giving Augustin De Iturbide a hard time with a guerrilla war and the rest of the nation was restive.
Don’t try and kill people who might be useful to you!
By 1821, the rebels and loyalists were locked in a stalemate when Iturbide got a bright idea when he was busy, presumably pillaging some village. His thought is preserved for posterity: “Wait one fucking minute!”
Iturbide finished his dastardly mole meal and ordered a size large rebel uniform, i.e he wore his regular clothes.
He struck a deal with the rebels and he was able to snatch victory from Spain! And best of all, almost none of the original rebel leaders were here to celebrate! The elites wouldn’t have it any other way. Unlike most other wars going on, the rebellion was populist in nature; none of the new criollo rebels seriously considered creating a society that would be responsive to the concerns of the masses.
Another reason for this was that Spain itself was convulsed by unrest. The landed elite suddenly found themselves vulnerable and, in a great example of Realpolitik, the gentry joined the cause and finally won independence on September 27th, 1821. It was as if your girl said she would take you to see some sweet action movie and instead lured you to a library so you can “talk about things.” Shudder.
Wait, why are we celebrating again?
So, newly christened Mexico (or “Sexico” as I like to call it) was a haven for the free, the rich and the pale. It was a shitty place for anybody else, just like most of Latin America at the time.
But luckily, not all was lost. Vicente Guerrero emerged as ruler of Mexico in the late 1820’s. As soon as he gained power, he abolished slavery. Then someone had him killed. So, this goes to prove my theory that Mexicans can only have a really cool leader every few decades.
Wait a minute, what about the speech? There is no definitive version of the speech. There are numerous versions floating about but most people agree on the essence of it. What’s really interesting is that individual rights, civil liberties and rule of law were nowhere to be found. It’s not really surprising, as father Hidalgo was a man of cloth and not a secularist or even a deist; beliefs that lend itself quite readily to notions of individualism and liberty.
This isn’t to say that Mexicans were like, “Orale, padre, fuck human rights!”
In fact, there were people who were crazy for all those things, but since New Spain never really had a tradition of secularism vs religion, it was easy for people of numerous social stations to rally behind the Virgin of Guadalupe, but not behind abstract notions. Of course, Spain also shared this issue and that never really went away until 1931. Then Spain had its turn to see just what civil war does to people.
Fast forward to the bleeding 2000’s and Mexicans still celebrate this day with vigor. The president makes a boring-ass speech on why these guys are worth a damn and the people go wild, in between ducking from bullets and wishing that the government would live up to the ideals of that war. Then they go home and cry or drink or maybe both, it’s a free country!
There is still one lingering question; why is it celebrated on the 15th? Porfirio Diaz changed the date so it can share the day with his birthday. Nobody bothered to switch the date back.
El Grito De Dolores – long held as the equivalent of the Declaration of Independence – is hailed throughout the land. There’s a very good reason why there isn’t a celebration of the actual Independence Day: the ideals of the war were in essence, hijacked and watered down. Who in their right mind wants to remember that?
But look at those crowds that hang around the prez every anniversary!