Sunday, September 13, 2009

History Lesson: The Significance of Sept. 13

I literally stumbled onto this bit of Mexican history. Of course, I knew about Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16. It's when the president of Mexico and all the state governors walk out onto the balconies of their government palaces and give the iconic "Grito" which is "Viva Mexico!" That commemorates Father Hidalgo's call for independence from Spain in 1810.

Here in Oaxaca, we have street vendors selling flags, banners, shields, drums, anything you can think of in the national colors of red, white, and green. Today, I noticed the huge Mexican flag in the zocalo flying at half staff. "Wonder why?" I thought. At the noon Oaxaca State Band concert, the announcer spoke of the honoring the Boy Heroes and of the North American invaders. Hmmm.

This evening, at another patriotic ceremony in the zocalo, a drum & bugle corps performed and there were a series of speeches by local dignitaries (in Mexico, there are ALWAYS speeches, and speeches, and speeches....) Listening carefully, I learned that Sept. 13 is the day commemorating the fall of Mexico City at the battle of Chapultapec Castle during the Mexican-American War (Mexicans call it the North American Intervention). That was the battle in which the
boy cadets of the national military academy were martyred. All over Mexico streets, plazas and public spaces are named "Ninos Heroes" (Boy Heroes) or "Martyrs of Chapultapec." It's very much part of the Mexican national identity.

Here's an explanation from

During the battle, six Mexican military cadets refused to fall back when General Bravo finally ordered retreat and fought to the death against superior U.S. forces. Their names were: teniente (lieutenant) Juan de la Barrera, and cadets Agustin Melgar, Juan Escutia, Vicente Suarez, Francisco Marquez and Fernando Montes de Oca. One by one they fell; when one was left (Juan Escutia), and the U.S. forces were about to kill him, he grabbed the Mexican flag, wrapped it around himself and jumped off the castle point. It is said that the American commander saluted the body of Escutia wrapped in the Mexican flag.

This was the same war in which the U.S. took from Mexico the present states of California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and part of Colorado...about half of their pre-war territory. Remember that Mexico had only been independent from Spain for about 25 years at that point and was a politically weak and financially struggling young nation.

So, today, listening to speeches about "the American invaders" and "those at whose hands the boys cadets were martyred" and about the U.S. taking so much Mexican territory, I wanted to be somewhere...anywhere...else. It was uncomfortable. But I'm glad I was there. It helped me understand why there is still a lingering ambivalence about the U.S. Yes,their economy is highly linked to our own. Most Mexican exports go to the States. And, of course, remittances from Mexican workers in the U.S. form the #4 or #5 greatest source of revenue in Mexico. But, at times, we've been less than a genial neighbor.

So, if Mexicans are still pissed off...I can understand why.