Cradle of Independence

This year (2010) is the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence.  Over the last couple of weekends, Charlie and I have visited some of the towns where it all began, namely San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo.  Both of these towns are only an hour or so away from Querétaro by bus.

San Miguel is pretty well known in the States, since so many Americans either live or visit there every year.  When you walk down the streets, you hear more English being spoken than Spanish.  Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful place with an historic downtown.  This town played a key role in the Mexican War of Independence.  General Ignacio Allende, one of San Miguel’s native sons, was a leading player in the war against Spain for independence.  Allende, captured in battle and beheaded, is a national hero.  San Miguel el Grande renamed itself “San Miguel de Allende” in 1826 in honor of his actions. 

While in San Miguel, Charlie and I visited Allende’s home, which is on the main square.  His family was quite well-to-do, so the home is very large with two stories.  As the story goes, there was a small group of co-conspirators who were plotting to start Mexico’s movement to independence.  One of the key players was a woman (Josefa Ortiz), who was married to Querétaro’s mayor.  On the night of September 15, 1810, Josefa got word that the plot had been discovered.  She told a trusted friend to send word to General Allende.  He rode by horseback to San Miguel, but General Allende wasn’t there.  Instead, he was in Dolores about a ½ hour away with Father Hidalgo, another of the co-conspirators.  The friend rode the extra distance to Dolores to warn both of them of the discovery.  Just before midnight, Father Miguel Hidalgo uttered his famous cry for the independence of Mexico (the Grito de Dolores) in front of his parish church, encouraging them to revolt:

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 not you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the gachupines! 

His reference to “bad government” was meant to criticize the Spanish colonial government and the “death to the gachupines” refers to the native Spaniards living in Mexico, i.e., Mexico’s elite.  Hidalgo and Allende were both “creoles”, born of Spanish parents in Mexico.  The status of “creoles” was lower than for native Spaniards in Mexico’s hierarchy.  After Mexico achieved independence, the town of Dolores was renamed “Dolores Hidalgo” in his honor.

Today, the city is primarily known for its ceramics industry, which Father Hidalgo brought to the town.  Every year on September 15th, the President of Mexico goes to Dolores Hidalgo to shout the Grito from the balcony of the government building on the central square of the town, in front of Father Hidalgo’s parish church.

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