Every year, on September 15th, Mexicans throughout the world commemorate the “Grito de Dolores” (Cry of Dolores), the key event which sparked Mexico’s War of Independence from Spanish rule.

The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire

Since the early 1500’s, Mexico had been part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a huge territory which encompassed Central America, Venezuela, most of the southwestern United States, much of the Caribbean and various other island colonies. Spain grew very powerful with all the riches pouring in from its vast colonial holdings.

However, by the late 1700’s, the once-mighty Spanish empire had weakened considerably. To keep it from collapsing altogether, economic and political legislation known as the Bourbon Reforms was enacted. These reforms included measures such as limiting positions of power in the Viceroyalty to European-born individuals (known as gachupines) and curbing the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Needless to say, these measures were highly unpopular with the criollos (local-born citizens of pure Spanish ancestry) and they demanded a greater say in running their own affairs.

To complicate things even further, by the early 1800’s, the government of Spain had abdicated in favor of the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. The Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, was imprisoned and Napoleon placed his older brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne. The new regime was intent on introducing even more reforms to limit the power of the Creoles and re-establish Spanish supremacy over its colonies. Widespread discontent led to members of the various castes in Mexico banding together to fight for independence from Spain.

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Enter Don Miguel Hidalgo

One of the major players in the early revolutionary days was Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest of criollo descent serving in the village of Dolores, near the city of Guanajuato. Hidalgo was not your typical priest of the day: he questioned the absolute authority of the Spanish King and challenged many ideas put forth by the Church. Rather than enjoy the privileges and ease of living that his position offered, he worked to promote various commercial activities to help the poor become more self-reliant. He also fathered five children with two different women.

The Querétaro Conspiracy

A group of men and women in the nearby city of Querétaro, led by a Creole military officer named Ignacio Allende, conspired to overthrow the hated Viceroyalty of New Spain. The group felt they needed someone on their side who had both moral authority and a good relationship with the poor. They recruited Father Hidalgo and set the wheels in motion for an uprising in early December of 1810. Their plan was discovered by the authorities in early September so the leaders of the movement decided to move the date of the uprising forward.

El Grito de Dolores

On the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Hidalgo, together with other revolutionary leaders, delivered a speech to his flock inciting them to raise arms against the hated gachupine-led government.

Within a month, the movement had been joined by over 50,000 men, mostly poor Indians and mestizos with no military training or equipment. This multitude marched through central Mexico, attacking the cities of San Miguel el Grande (now San Miguel de Allende), Celaya and Guanajuato. They were about to enter Mexico City, but Hidalgo ordered his forces to retreat.

From there, things went downhill for the popular resistance movement. Hidalgo himself was captured the following year, convicted by authorities and shot before a firing squad on July 30, 1811. But the seeds of change had been sown and 11 years later Mexico finally gained its independence from Spain.

Independence Day Celebrations in Mexico

Today, Mexicans commemorate their Independence Day with fireworks, food, flags, parades and red, white, and green decorations.

To start off the celebrations, on the night of September 15th, at around 11 p.m., the Mexican President rings the bell of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. Then, he gives a patriotic speech based on the “Grito de Dolores”, ending with shouts of ¡Viva México!

The following day, September 16, is the official, paid holiday. In many cities, towns and villages throughout Mexico, local politicians re-enact the Grito in the public square.

In Sayulita, the day is marked by a parade with different school groups marching through the streets of the village, band music and family feasts. See you there!