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Mexico’s Independence: The History of ‘El Grito’

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Independence Day is probably the most popular Mexican patriotic holiday. In Spanish it’s called ‘Diez y Seis de Septiembre’ (the 16th of September), and it celebrates the independence of Mexico from Spain in the early 19th century.

But this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cities and towns across Mexico are canceling all of the national holiday’s traditional celebrations that draw large crowds to public spaces in order to prevent a major coronavirus outbreak.

The celebrations traditionally begin on the night of September 15th, with “El Grito,” a call made by the president, governors and mayors across the country at midnight to commemorate the manner in which Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest in the town of Dolores, publicly initiated what became the Mexican independence movement in 1810.

What is not always understood about the start of Mexico’s war of independence is that the uprising unfolded much differently than was planned. After three centuries of Spanish rule in Mexico, the ruling class had bred itself into a hierarchy of two levels: the Gachupines (Spanish born aristocrats) at the top and the Criollos (Mexican-born Spaniards) just below.

Before the night of Hidalgo’s cry, a movement of political revolution had already begun when Napoleon conquered Spain. The Criollos, of whom Hidalgo was a member, saw this instability as an opportunity to overthrow the Gachupines and claim ruling stature.

They planned to begin their push for power in December of 1810, but on September 15, 1810, the conspirators received the bad news: their conspiracy had been found out.

Hidalgo was forced to make a quick decision – flee to safety and begin forming a new plot or turn to his parish, starving for freedom from Spain altogether, and seize the opportunity to spark a true revolution for independence.

Choosing to stay and fight, Hidalgo sped to his church and rang the bells, summoning workers from nearby fields. From the pulpit he exhorted his following to take up arms and join him in his fight against the injustices of the Spanish colonial system.

He then delivered the famous cry: ¡Viva México! (“Long Live México!”) which became known as “El Grito de Dolores,” the shout that celebrates Mexico’s Independence to this day.

The Battle of Guanajuato, the first major engagement of the insurgency, occurred 4 days later. After a decade of war, in August of 1821, the Spanish viceroy in Mexico recognized Mexico’s independence by signing the Treaty of Cordoba and, on September 28, an independent Mexico was officially declared.

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