Sunday September 16th represents the 208th anniversary of “El Grito de Independencia,” the proclamation that began the war of independence in Mexico. The 1810 declaration by Miguel Hidalgo, born out of a dream and desire to elevate common colonial subjects made up of Indian and Mestizo communities to political self-determination, started a political experiment that continues today.
It took 14 years of war and intrigue to finally establish a constitutional government based on democratic principles. The subsequent century represented a constant battle with authoritarian tendencies that, at times, dominated or threatened to dominate the political life of the country.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 was a bloody affair that nevertheless sought to reestablished a democratic structure and a measure of stability that allowed for a renaissance of ideals and institutions that have continued to develop and strengthen. By this time however, the country had lost half of its lands to the United States.
Ever since Texas independence and American conquest of the Southwest, the Mexican community in the United States tended to stoically endure the second-class citizenship it was relegated to by their new landlord. It was not until the aftermath of the World War II that the passive acceptance of political conditions was reexamined by Mexican American veterans that went on to establish a voice for justice and equality.
The new awareness and impetus for action culminated in the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, a radical effort to confront the status quo everywhere in the country, especially in the Southwest. The Movement had its own heroes, but added those of Mexico relevant to the Chicano agenda including characters and events from ancient Mesoamerica, to Hidalgo and Mexican independence, to Juarez and his faith in democracy, to the heroes of the Mexican Revolution.
During this era, Mexican independence celebrations were an essential part of expressing Chicano community values. The latter days of the Movement however, saw the Battle of Puebla, better known as Cinco de Mayo, become more popular on college campuses due to its historical relevance and place on the annual calendar of events.
Added to a diminished identification with Mexican Independence Day was the arrival of massive waves of non-Mexican Latino immigrants such as Cubans, Colombians, Peruvians and now Central Americans, Venezuelans and the over 100 thousand American citizens and hurricane refugees from Puerto Rico. Even the most important Latino advocacy organization, The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) has now changed its name to UnidosUS because among other reasons, some feel that the term “La Raza” is too Mexican.
In late August, I attended the 45th annual Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that reflected the diversity of the Latino community in America. Although called “Mexican Fiesta,” heavily represented in this 3-day event were groups from countries in South American, the Caribbean, Mexico and the Southwest, particularly the Tex-Mex musical groups that played the favorite songs of what used to be Texas migrants that came to Wisconsin to work the fields and stayed.
To be sure, Mexican Independence Day continues to be relevant because the Mexican immigrant community has a prominent presence in every part of the United States and its heritage expressed in the trappings of language, culture and traditions is very vibrant and visible. Also, Americans of Mexican descent have strengthened their sense of history and place by accepting the gift of those trappings.
The September 16th is a day to celebrate our diversity as Americans. It is also nice to watch the ceremonies proclaiming “El Grito” “Viva Mexico.”