Long Live Mexico!
By Jesús Aguado
September is a big month for fiestas. It is the month of the motherland, a time when Mexicans can show off with pride the historic and cultural richness of the nation.
September is the month when independence is cried out and boasted. This is the time of the year when even those who are not Mexican wear the classic hat, paint a tricolor flag on their cheeks, and cry with all their hearts “¡Viva México, Viva San Miguel de Allende!”
Two hundred six years ago this month, the war of independence began. It emerged from this city, land of conspirators.
A little bit of history to understand the causes of rebellion
In 1808, after the invasion of Spain by Napoleon Bonaparte, secret meetings were begun in New Spain by conspirators who wanted independence from Spain. Some of those meetings took place in Valladolid, Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Xalapa, but all were uncovered, and the members were punished.
The San Miguel el Grande conspiracy, initiated by Captain Ignacio Allende, a member of the regiment of the Dragones de la Reina (Queen’s Dragoons), took place upstairs in the house located on the corner of Plaza Principal and San Francisco. Several creole sanmiguelenses, such as the brothers Juan and Ignacio Aldama, Father Manuel Castiblanque (chaplain of the chapel of Our Lady of Loreto), Luis Malo, Felipe González, Francisco de Lanzagorta, and don Juan de Umarán, among others, took part in the meetings. Later, the priest from Dolores, don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, was invited. The conspiracy spread to Querétaro, where the corregidor (governor), Miguel Domínguez, and his wife, Josefa Ortiz (known as La Corregidora), were among the leaders.
The conspiracy was uncovered in Querétaro in the first half of September. Josefa Ortiz, who heard the news on September 15, 1810, asked the prison warden of Querétaro, Ignacio Pérez, to warn Allende about the discovery. When Pérez got to San Miguel late that evening, he couldn’t find Allende, who was in Dolores with Hidalgo. He delivered the message to Juan Aldama, who left for Dolores to warn his friends.
Plans to initiate the fight had been scheduled for December 8 that year in San Juan de los Lagos, where many people would be attending the festivity to honor the Virgin. But because of the discovery of their plot, Allende and Hidalgo decided to start the fight right away. In the early morning of September 16, a Sunday, the bells of the church in Dolores rang out, and Hidalgo explained the plans to the crowd that gathered. The people who chose to fight were provided with rustic weapons, and as Hidalgo shouted, “Long live Ferdinand VII, and death to bad government!” they set off for Atotonilco.
The entrance into San Miguel
In Atotonilco the chaplain gave Hidalgo a banner bearing an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the rebels continued their march toward San Miguel. The Spanish in the village, at the news of the rebel advance, took refuge in the Casas Reales (Royal Houses). (The former Presidencia building was one of them.) They demanded that General Narciso Maria Loreto de la Canal, commander of the Dragones de la Reina, protect them.
It has been said that when Allende and the insurgents arrived at the Casas Reales in the village, he asked de la Canal to surrender, promising to spare the lives of the Spanish. De la Canal, knowing Allende’s honesty, delivered the Spanish as prisoners, who were taken to the College of St. Francisco de Sales, the yellow building in front of Plaza Cívica, now part of the University of Leon. However, according to historian Guadalupe Jimenez Codinach, when the multitude that followed Hidalgo entered the village, “the mob gathered and opened the doors of the store owned by don Francisco de Landeta—today La Coronela—and sacked it,” as well as the store owned by Pedro de Lámbarri, which is today San Agustín, the churros restaurant. Allende, according to Jimenez Codinach, “disbanded the mob with a whip, and they retreated.” Shortly after 10pm, everything was calm.”
The next day, September 17, the first city council of independent Mexico was formed in San Miguel, chaired by Ignacio Aldama. After the insurgents left San Miguel, the creole and Spanish families left the village, and their properties were confiscated by the Spanish Crown, so haciendas and houses were abandoned and constantly sacked by guerrillas.
The fiesta that everybody awaits
The celebrations start on Sunday, September 13, with the symbolic race through the main streets of the city. The winners of this race will go to Querétaro on September 15 and take part in a ceremony in which the mayor of Querétaro will deliver the message that the conspiracy has been discovered, reenacting the request made by Josefa Ortiz. The athletes will leave Querétaro at 5pm and come to San Miguel along the same route taken by Ignacio Pérez in 1810.
At 10pm, members of the group Aficionados al Teatro will reenact the entrance of the insurgents into the village. Carrying torches and rustic tools and dressed in 1810 style, they will walk from calzada de la Aurora toward the Historic Center.
At 10:30pm the Mexican flag will be transported by Mayor Ricardo Villarreal, in his first year of administration, from the old city hall building to Allende’s house. At 10:55pm the athletes arrive from Querétaro at the Casa de Allende with the message, and at 11pm Mayor Villarreal will give the “grito” of independence from the right balcony of Allende’s house.
The party will continue in the Jardín Principal with fireworks displays and Mexican music. The celebration will end at around 3am.
Civic and military parade
On September 16, an early-morning civic ceremony will be held in the Jardín Principal and local authorities will light the flame of freedom. At 11am a civil and military parade leaves from El Cardo and passes through the main streets of the city, featuring members of the army, students, beauty queens, floats, and some civic organizations. At 6pm the insurgents enter the city.
Finally, on September 17, there is a reenactment of the formation of the first city council of the independent Mexico.
Entrance of the insurgents
Every September 16 at 6pm, as part of the Mexican Independence festivities, there is a reenactment of the entrance of the insurgents into San Miguel. Allende, Hidalgo, and Aldama are represented by actors on horseback, leading a large group of men, women, and children dressed as peasants of the time and armed with stones, sticks, tools, and torches. The group enters through Insurgentes, turns on Hernández Macías, and proceeds down Canal. Actors portraying Allende and de la Canal reenact the taking of the Casas Reales at the old Presidencia building, and then they give the “grito” from the balcony of that building. This year marks 31 years of this tradition.
You can find the entire program in Que Pasa.
“The time of our emancipation has come. This is the time for our freedom, and if you value freedom, you will help me to defend it from the Spanish rule. Today, you will see me heading an army made up of those who love their freedom. I invite you to fulfill your duty.” According to Mexican history, this is a fragment of Hidalgo’s speech before the multitude on September 15, 1810.
Long live religion! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Long Live Fernando VII, and death to the bad government! These are other phrases Hidalgo might have used to exhort the insurgents to fight for their independence.