Times Past

Times Past: Struggle for independence in Mexico reverberated to SLO

The priest ordered that the bells of the church be rung at 6 in the morning before workers left their homes for the fields.

Standing on the steps at the entrance, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla shouted out a demand for independence from Spain, which had controlled Mexico since the arrival of Hernán Cortés in 1519.

Today, Father Hidalgo’s cry is commemorated in every town and city throughout Mexico. Despite the drug war-inspired anti-terrorist campaigns, Mexican President Felipe Calderón rang the bell on the balcony of the Presidential Palace and issued the “Grito Mexicano” as part of Mexico’s celebrations marking 200 years of independence from Spain on the eve of the holiday in 2010:

“Mexicans! Long live the heroes that gave us the Fatherland! Long live Hidalgo! Long live Morelos!

Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez! Long live Allende! Long live Aldama and Matamoros! Long live National Independence! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!”

The speech celebrates the heroes of the war for Mexican independence:

Hidalgo, José María Morelos, Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama and Mariano Matamoros. It also calls for long life to the independence of the country. Or at least words to that effect, for no one wrote what was actually shouted. Hidalgo’s “Grito de Dolores” (cry, or shout, of Dolores) has been raised to the level of a universally accepted national epic. To quarrel with any part of it would be like saying to patriotic North Americans, “the Liberty Bell never rang in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776.”

Mexico’s War of Independence began at the same time as similar struggles throughout Latin America. Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808 had weakened the hold of the Spanish monarchy on its colonies. Farther south, in what became Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia, Simón Bolivar led a war of independence. José de San Martín raised the flag of an independent Argentina. In Chile, a man with the unexpected name of Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme led the struggle.

But each of these conflicts pitted the people of pure Spanish blood in the New World, the creoles, against the Iberian peninsula-born Spanish Royalists. Hidalgo, though a creole himself, sought the support of the mestizos, peoples of mixed Amerindian and Spanish ancestry.

His father managed a hacienda where Hidalgo learned to speak the languages of the mestizo workers. He also came to know and love the devotion of these peoples to the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Virgin appeared before Juan Diego, a young mestizo, while he was  walking from his village to Mexico City in the early morning of Dec. 9, 1531. She spoke to him in Nahuatl, the local language.

Other miracles followed, and soon the image of her appearance became the most widely accepted religious symbol in all of Mexico.

Hidalgo used that image to lead a combination of creole and mestizo peoples into a 12-year struggle for independence.

That struggle would reverberate 1,800 miles northward to the little mission pueblo of San Luis Obispo.

On Sept. 16, you can celebrate a part of the history of Mission San Luis Obispo, the 1810-1822 struggle for the Independence of Mexico.

See a bit of mission history come alive from the early 1800s and taste delicious traditional foods made by hand right on the site. Join in family-oriented music and games from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Mission gardens. There will be a dramatic re-enactment of the “Grito Mexicano,” with a ringing of the bells and the proclamation at 3 p.m. in front of the Old Mission belltower entrance.

Come and learn some of our local history and support our Spanish-language community at Mission San Luis Obispo.

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.