Monday, October 7, 2013

Viva Mexico! Celebrating the War of Independence – September, 2013

Our stay in Guanajuato (which is now over – more on where and what we are doing now to come later) coincided with the celebration of Mexico’s independence from Spain.  And Guanajuato is the state where -- according to the most widely accepted view of Mexican history – the independence movement had its start, and where the first big battle of the war was won.  Think:  spending July in Massachusetts – humidity included. 

Preparations – September 1 . . . . . 

Mexican flags and red, white and green bunting started appearing on September 1, and by Independence Day (September 16) the town was awash in color. 
Guanajuato - Flags a Flyin'
Restaurants began offering the traditional celebratory dish: Chiles en Nogada – a poblano chile stuffed with ground or chopped beef and dried fruit, covered in walnut (nogal) sauce and pomegranate seeds (green-white-red -- quite patriotic and quite delicious). 

September 15-16:  Grito de Independencia! 

The cry (grito) for independence from Spain was given early on the morning of September 16, 1810 by Father Miguel Hidalgo de Costilla either inside or on the steps of the parish church of the village of Dolores, which is located in the state of Guanajuato.   

The Dolores Church Today

[An Aside -- Selective Information re: Mexican History According to the Crew of Abracadabra:  There had been a lot of indigenous uprisings prior to 1810, but the “independence movement” recognized by history is the one instigated by the landed class, tired of having the natural resources of Mexico (lots of gold and silver) taken to Spain to benefit a monarchy whose representatives operated a repressive political system.  For example, Spanish law distinguished between Spaniards born in Spain (“peninsulares”) and those of Spanish ancestry born in Mexico (“criollos”).  Male criollos (including children of peninsulares) were barred from the higher ranks of the military, civil service and church and criollo women brought a smaller dowry on the marriage market (the job category open for women of the landholding class . . . ).  What the Spaniards forgot was that many criollos had money, military training and – perhaps even more powerfully – thought of themselves as Spaniards. 
And of course, this discrimination of Europeans based on birth place doesn’t begin to touch on the systematized discrimination of those of mixed race or the enslaved indigenous people.  That's an ongoing story . . .

Back in 1810, Father Hidalgo and some like-minded criollos began to plan a rebellion.  As with many attempts at rebellion, this one was not kept secret enough.  The conspirators had planned an uprising for late in September, but on the night of September 15 Father Hidalgo learned that the conspiracy had been betrayed, and so accelerated his called for independence.  Legend has it that the church bells rang at about 5 in the morning in the village of Dolores, and when the people gathered, Father Hidalgo called for revolution. 
And this is the only reason we can think of for starting a military campaign in the middle of the rainy season . . .]
A Fiery Father Hidalgo

A More Statesmanlike Representation

Back to September 15 – 16: Grito de Independencia! 

This 5 a.m. event is – not surprisingly – NOT celebrated at 5 a.m. on the 16th, but at 11 p.m. on the 15th.  Not only is this more civilized in general – it stretches the holiday to include two full days of food, music, drink, and red-white-and-green tchotchke sales! 

On the 15th of September, 2013 it rained off and on for most of the day.  We wandered through town in the afternoon, watching hordes of national tourists eating, drinking and buying stuff until we started feeling soggy and decided to go home.  The rain abated after dinner, so at about 10 p.m. we planned to leave our little casita and join the throngs on the steps of the Alhóndiga museum around 11 for a reenactment of the Grito de Independencia and a chance to shout “Viva Mexico!” (really - haven't you always wanted to?).  Bryce put his hand on the pasador (the bolt that holds the front door shut) and suddenly it sounded as though someone was aiming a fire hose from the sky into the alley in front of our door.   Now, we’re interested in experiencing local celebrations . . . but we have our limits.  So, we stayed home and listened to the rain pound on the plastic roof over the front patio.  Viva Mexico. 

In case you think we’re just wimps – rather than wimps within reason – here’s a picture of what Callejón Tecalote looks like in the pouring rain (taken from half-way down the hill -- imagine what it would be like trying to get up the stone path up the hill in this type of rain!):

A River Runs Past It - Our Bedroom Window

On the morning of the 16th, the rain had stopped (much like Camelot, it usually rains at night in Guanajuato) so we went down the hill to observe the Independence Day parade.  We had been told this was not the big parade – that the big parade would come on the 28th of September in honor of the Battle of the Alhóndiga, an event of particular significance in Guanajuato.  And this parade wasn't spectacular as judged by our parade standards -- but we enjoyed it very much. 
Most of the marchers were local school children.  There were schools with drums and marchers –
Little Drummer Boy

Future Soldier, Teacher - or Civil Servant?

A Spiffy School Group!
, including some marching teachers in astoundingly high heels (that latina fashionista thing will not be denied):

OMG -- A Mile or More on Stone Streets in THOSE Shoes! 

There were schools with miniature representatives of the  heroes of the War of Independence.  Like Catholic saints, each has his identifying trait:  General Allende (more about him later) is always shown with Elvis-like sideburns and Father Hidalgo is bald and is often shown with a bandana covering his head (apparently ahead of his time in the fight against skin cancer):

Allende - see sideburns; Hidalgo - see head covering;
and El Pipila - see torch (more about El Pipila later)

Another Hidalgo, with Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, the
One Recognized Female Conspirator  

There were even marchers from a teacher training college or "normal school" wearing high - but not astoundingly high - heels:

Future Teachers, Parade Rest

And, of course, what parade is complete without a beauty queen (likely wearing astoundingly high heels):

The rain held off for the entire morning.  We enjoyed the parade and got a chance to shout “Viva Mexico!” along with our neighbors. 

Memorial of the Battle of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas – September 28

There was no rain on the day of the big parade honoring the first big battle of the Guerra de la Independencia which took place in Guanajuato.  The paper parasol salesmen were out in full force – hoping to offload their inventory of parasols before the rain started up again!

"Parasaaaahhl!" -- The Vender
The Customer

[Further Aside:  More Selective Information re: Mexican History According to the Crew of Abracadabra:  In 1810, the Alhóndiga de Granaditas was a very large government granary in Guanajuato.  On the 28th of September, 1810, Spanish soldiers and representatives of the Spanish civil authority were barricaded in the granary.  Father Hidalgo (by then General Hidalgo) and Lieutenant-General Ignacio Jose Allende de Unzaga, a criollo former captain in the Viceregal Army of New Spain, led the attack on the Alhóndiga.  Things were not going well for the revolutionary forces until Father Hidalgo talked an indigenous miner into running up to the wooden doors of the granary and setting them on fire.  The miner, who for reasons we’ve never been able to determine was called “El Pipila” (which we’re told is a term for a hen turkey - ?), was protected from bullets by a slab of stone tied to his back.  He’s now a big hero in Guanajuato and, reportedly, survived not only the attack on the Alhóndiga but the entire war and lived to a ripe old age.  We hope that part is true.  Hidalgo and Allende managed to survive for only nine months after this battle at which point their heads plus those of two other instigators were returned to the Alhóndiga to be hung from the building’s corners for a full 10 years.  The war would continue - in fits and starts - until 1821.]

Back to Memorial of the Battle of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas – September 28:
The parade honoring this first victory lasted for nearly four hours and included marchers representing the federal, state and local Guanajuatense governments.  We clapped loudly for representatives of the state’s Finance and Housing departments, the computer support group,

the federal office of women and – loudest of all for the street cleaners of the City of Guanajuato in their natty orange and pink outfits.

People sitting near us on the steps of Teatro Juarez sent shout-outs to their friends and neighbors marching in the parade.  It occurred to us that not once during our years as civil servants had we been invited to march in a parade!

The Department of Snazzy Hats

"Tourismo!  Tourismo! Tourismo!" -
The Popular Department of Tourism

After the civil servants there were Hidalgos, Allendes, El Pipilas and Mexican

and scary looking military guys riding on small tanks:

There were also, of course, marching bands:
The most interesting group included two men in red devil costumes wielding very large and noisy whips and apparently herding a group of people wearing 19th century dress.  Did they represent devils and evil Spaniards?  Or???  Unfortunately by this time our camera card had run out of room!!!  We'll try to figure out what that was and let you know.
Near the end of the parade, for about an hour, representatives of every police force in the state marched by.  A tip for those considering a criminal career in Guanajuato: schedule your criminal activity for the morning of September 28, when at least half of the police in the state are marching in the parade and a large number are in sniper position on top of the buildings along the parade route.  Guanajuato was quite safe, but we wondered who was guarding the banks in the nearby city of Leon???

We tired of watching police and their equipment pass by, so we left our parade-viewing spot on the steps of Teatro Juarez and worked our way through the crowd to a favorite falafel restaurant near the beginning of the parade route.  From there we watched the tail end of the parade which was much more fun than the hour of police.  Wisely, the parade committee had arranged for the horse-riding contingent to be at the end of the parade - thus permitting the marchers to proceed without spending too much time looking down. 
We saw charros (cowboys) riding gorgeous horses, some of which were trotting in a fancy side-step gait.  Some of the charros did rope tricks from horseback, and the charras rode side-saddle in full-skirted country dresses.  As previously noted, the card in our camera was full at this point (proving that there are limits to digital photography) so - alas, no pictures.  We suppose you’ll just have to go to Guanajuato to see for yourselves. 

So – that’s what the big national celebration in Mexico is like.  In our next post we’ll take our “Selective Information re: Mexican History According to the Crew of Abracadabra” tour on the road and report on our visits to Dolores Hidalgo (renamed in the mid-1800's for guess who) and San Miguel de Allende (renamed at about the same time for guess-who-else). 


  1. Great photos of the parade and clothing! I love that you are learning so much about Mexican history and culture while on a sailing trip! lived in Mexico for a year and visited many times, and was always in awe of the cultural and geographic diversity. What an amazing country!

  2. Thanks, Wendy! It's true that we cruisers often get "stuck" on the coast. We love the sailing and the sun and the beach and the cervezas, too -- but there's SO MUCH MORE to Mexico! And we've come to think that Mexico is also underappreciated by people who think of themselves as "travelers" (rather than tourists) -- that they think Mexico isn't "different enough" to warrant a visit. We hope our blog reminds people of the depth of Mexican culture and history, and that, in addition, there's a vibrant art, design and food scene in Mexico today. So - thanks for appreciating our point! [She said - on her way back to the beach! :)]