I found out what it’s like to have a big brother, back in 1968. Carlos Tapia lived with our family as a foreign exchange student during his senior year and my junior year of high school. Carlos’ stay with our family was probably the best thing to happen to me during my adolescence. I could go on for pages about Carlos and how he enabled our family to think more inclusively about the world.
Carlos shared my bedroom, so our bond had the strength of brothers and best friends. We did homework together, finished chores together, played games together, and did some important growing up together. Carlos learned about the United States with us and I developed a love of Mexico from Carlos. In other words, Carlos helped me to greatly expand my horizons.
The first Mexican holiday our family learned to celebrate with Carlos was El Grito de Independencia. The Cry for Independence is the most symbolic and important fiesta for most Mexicans. El Grito commemorates the original cry that was called out by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla at the mission village of Dolores.
Carlos explained how the North American born people of Spanish heritage, or criollos, had been plotting independence from Spain. There had already been a few minor skirmishes with the colonial authorities, but nothing organized or really assertive.
Carlos said that Father Hidalgo gathered his parish congregation of criollos, Indians, and mestizos together in the village of Dolores on September 15, 1810. He made an emotional appeal of solidarity to support the revolution to throw off the rule of Spain. Hidalgo openly advocated Mexican independence including the arrest or exile of all gachupines, (Spaniards) who had exploited and oppressed the people for centuries. Father Hidalgo ended his long speech, in the early
hours of the next day, September 16th, with the cry, “¡Mexicanos, viva México!” (Mexicans, long live Mexico!).
The speech aroused the emotions of the criollos to fever pitch. The villagers departed Dolores towards the town of San Miguel de Allende, gathering more support along the way. The revolutionaries regrouped and organized themselves then left for Mexico City. During this time, the criollos acquired a flag with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. It was at this time that the movement became much more violent and effective.
The war for independence went on for a long, bloody eleven years. The recognition of Mexican independence was finally officially recognized by the Spanish Viceroy in 1821.
Carlos stated that the Grito begins the nationwide celebration called Fiestas Patrias. Mexicans tune in to mass media or gather publicly to watch the President speak from the National Palace balcony at Mexico City. On the evening of September 15th, he rings the same bell that Father Hidalgo struck on that historic night in 1810.
After the tolling of the bell, the President performs the Grito de Dolores. This includes the shouting of the names of the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence.
“¡Vivan los heroes que nos dieron patria! ¡Viva!
¡Viva Hidalgo! ¡Viva!
¡Viva Morelos! ¡Viva!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez! ¡Viva!
¡Viva Allende! ¡Viva!
¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros! ¡Viva!
¡Viva nuestra independencia! ¡Viva!”
The roll-call ends with the President shouting, three times, “¡Viva México! ¡Viva!” In turn, Mexicans also shout the slogan, then sing the National Anthem. This is accompanied by noisemakers and fireworks.
The Fiestas Patrias continues today with civic parades, general celebrations, and feasting. Exuberant Mexican parties and dances take place across Mexico.
Back in 1968, our family’s first El Grito was much more subdued. We enjoyed Carlos’ story of Mexican Independence over a traditional Midwestern American dinner.