Friday, September 17, 2010

tell it to the priest

Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on September 16, and the actions that started it all happened 200 years ago this week.

Unlike virtually every other nation on earth, the country now known as Mexico started due to the efforts of a Roman Catholic priest.

Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla is hardly the kind of man that many today would consider to be a role model. He gambled, fornicated, had children out of wedlock, and didn’t believe in Hell. He also encouraged his parishioners to grow vines and olives, actions that were considered illegal by the Spanish rulers of Mexico.

Around 6:00 am September 16, 1810, Hidalgo ordered the bells of his church to be rung and gathered his congregation. Flanked by his fellow conspirators Ignacio Allende and Mariano Abasolo, he addressed the people in front of his church, encouraging them to revolt. Due to the fact that his church was located in the small town of Dolores (near Guanajuato), the gathering became known as Grito de Dolores (“cry of Dolores”), and the battle cry for the Mexican war of independence.

In July of 1811, Father Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende were captured by the Spanish army. His body was mutilated, and his head (and Allende’s) were put on display in Guanajuato in order to discourage other Mexican rebels. However, the passing of Father Hidalgo didn’t end the quest for independence.

Under different leadership, the struggle continued for nearly 11 more years. Finally, on August 24 of 1821, the Spanish crown signed the Treaty of Cordoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala, and ended 300 years of Spanish rule.

With the signing of the treaty, Mexico gained control of large parts of what is now the Southwestern United States, which had first been occupied by the Spanish is 1542. From 1821 until 1848, the map of Mexico looked like the picture shown below:

The irony of this picture is that in the areas of the United States where illegal immigration is considered to be a major problem, Spanish has been spoken considerably longer than English, and the areas in question were actually part of Mexico for nearly 30 years. If Arizona governor Jan Brewer could speak Spanish, she’d probably be saying, “tienes que estar bromeando”.

America’s war for independence came about due to the actions of some fed-up farmers at the battle at Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized the event in his poem “Concord Hymn”, which contained the following stanza:

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world."

Father Hidalgo’s plea to his parishioners may not have been the shot that was heard around the world, but his story is proof that even one individual can help to defeat one of the most powerful nations on earth, a thought that’s both comforting and frightening at the same time.

If that idea makes you uncomfortable, go tell it to a priest.

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