By Fernando B. Rodriguez
September 16 is best known in Mexico as El Grito de Dolores (“The Cry of Dolores”) or an event best recognized a s the “Cry of Independence”). The now famous words uttered from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato on September 16, 1810 which marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence and is the most important national holiday observed in Mexico. The “Grito” was the proclamation of the Mexican War of Independence byMiguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest.
Hidalgo and several working class peasants were involved in a planned revolt against the Spanish colonial government, when several plotters were betrayed. Fearing his arrest, Hidalgo commanded his brother Mauricio, as well as Ignacio Allende and Mariano Abasolo to go with a number of other armed men to make the sheriff release the pro-independence inmates on the night of September 15. They managed to set eighty of them free. Around 6:00 am September 16, 1810, Hidalgo ordered the church bells to be rung and gathered his congregation. Flanked by Allende and Juan Aldama, he addressed the people in front of his church, encouraging them to revolt.
The Battle of Guanajuato, was the first major engagement of the insurgency and occurred 4 days later. Mexico’s independence would not be effectively declared from Spain in the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire until September 27, 1821, after a decade of war.
There is no scholarly consensus as to what exactly Hidalgo said at the time, as the book The Course of Mexican History states “The exact words of this most famous of all Mexican speeches are not known, or, rather, they are reproduced in almost as many variations as there are historians to reproduce them.”
The book goes on to claim that “the essential spirit of the message is…’My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government!”
Hidalgo essentially told them that the time for action on their part had now come. When he asked, ‘Will you be slaves of Napoleon or will you as patriots defend your religion, your hearts and your rights?’ there was a unanimous cry, ‘We will defend to the utmost! Long live religion, long live our most holy mother of Guadalupe! ”
This event has since assumed an almost mythic status. Since the late 20th century, Hidalgo y Costilla’s “cry of independence” has become emblematic of Mexican independence.
Each year on the night of September 15 at around eleven in the evening, the President of Mexico rings the bell of theNational Palace in Mexico City. After the ringing of the bell, he repeats a cry of patriotism (a Grito Mexicano) based upon the “Grito de Dolores”, with the names of the important heroes of the Mexican War of Independence and ending with the threefold shout of ¡Viva México! from the balcony of the palace to the assembled crowd in the Plaza de la Constitución, or Zócalo, one of the largest public plazas in the world.
After the shouting, he rings the bell again and waves the Flag of Mexico to the applause of the crowd, and is followed by the playing and mass singing of the the Mexican national anthem. This event draws up to half a million spectators from all over Mexico and tourists worldwide. On the morning of September 16, or Independence Day, the nationalmilitary parade starts in the Zócalo, passes the Hidalgo Memorial and ends on the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main boulevard.
A similar celebration occurs in cities and towns all over Mexico, and in Mexican embassies and consulates worldwide, on the 15th or the 16th. The mayor (or governor, in the case of state capitals and ambassadors or consuls in the case of overseas celebrations), rings a bell and gives the traditional words, with the names of Mexican independence heroes included, ending with the threefold shout of Viva Mexico!, the bell ringing for the second time, the waving of the Mexican flag and the mass singing of the National Anthem by everyone in attendance. In the 19th century, it became common practice for Mexican presidents in their final year in office to re-enact the Grito in Dolores Hidalgo, rather than in the National Palace.
The following day, September 16 is Independence Day in Mexico and is considered a patriotic holiday. This day is marked by parades, patriotic programs, drum and bugle and marching band competitions, and special programs on the national and local media outlets, even concerts.