By: Miriam (Milly) Nuñez, Bryan University Instructor
When is Mexico’s Independence Day? This may or may not be a question you have asked yourself at one time or another. My parents were both born and raised in Mexico, moving to the United States in the later 1960s-early 1970s. I was born and raised in California but travelled annually to Mexico to visit family until about the time I started high school when we just couldn’t take the long vacations because it was too hard missing school for more than a week or two. I remember from an early age right around the early days of May I would start to see Mexican flags and decorations at the grocery stores and commercials on television and I would think, “Wow, we must have a holiday coming up,” but nothing was ever said at home, certainly no decorations or parties. Come September, while watching the evening news with my parents on Univision, our local Spanish television station, I would see thousands of people celebrating in town squares with fireworks, music, and parades declaring Mexico’s Independence. Needless to say, I was a little confused as to what was going on in the United States versus Mexico. It was not until high school when I took a class on Latin American History that I learned about the independence movements of Latin America and learned the real story behind “Cinco de Mayo” and “Mexico’s Independence Day.”
First let me start by telling you what really happened on “Cinco de Mayo,” better known in Mexico as “The Battle of Puebla.” The Battle of Puebla took place on May 5, 1962 resisting the attempt by France to invade and overthrow Mexico’s reigning government. The French continued their attempt to establish a monarchy in Mexico for the next five years. However, this battle was important as Puebla stands only 70 miles outside of Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. With about half of the soldiers of the French army descending on the capital, the Mexican army was able to win and lift the spirits of the country. The victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance. This day is considered a national holiday in Mexico and here in the United States Mexican immigrants introduced the holiday to encourage pride in their heritage. However, we have seen the holiday in the United States as a means of promoting drinking with little reference to the origin of the celebration. If I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody incorrectly say “Cinco de Mayo” was Mexico’s Independence Day, I’d be rich. To put this in another way, imagine celebrating “The Battle of Gettysburg” or even the “Boston Tea Party” with drink specials and having people perceive it as America’s Independence Day.
Mexico actually celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. After more than 300 years of Spanish rule, the Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo (pictured herein), launched the Mexican War of Independence with his “Grito de Dolores” on this day. Mexico began the battle for independence in 1810. Thousands of indigenous people and Mestizos united to fight for the redistribution of land and racial equity. Several leaders would rise to lead these armies across the country to finally create an independent nation and break free of Spanish colonialism. Eventually, “Royalists” – Mexicans of Spanish descent – would join the revolutionaries leading to the victory of Mexico over Spain in 1820. Mexico continued to struggle in establishing a new and equal government, but they were now free of foreign reign, finally establishing a republic in 1823. Mexico’s Independence Day celebrates the moment of insurgency and the possibility and hope of becoming an independent country. On the eve before September 16, Mexico’s president will step out and repeat the famous, “Grito de Dolores,” to reiterate the message of hope and freedom for all of Mexico. Meanwhile, here in the United States, there is little acknowledgment compared to the “Cinco de Mayo” holiday. You will find Mexican communities that will celebrate this day, but the celebrations are much smaller and more internal than the commercial holidays. Again, for comparison, all of the same parades, speeches, and fireworks that we see on the 4th of July in the U.S. is similar to what you see in Mexico when they celebrate their independence on September 16.
I hope this has helped to answer the question: “So, when is Mexico’s Independence Day?” When May rolls around and your friends invite you to have a drink on “Cinco de Mayo,” go right ahead, but please tell them you are not celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day. The good news is, if you want to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day, you can add another night out to your calendar: September 16th.