The way my Mexican-American family celebrates diez y seis de septiembre is to talk about the history of the day, celebrate our culture, support Mexican-owned businesses, and to eat Mexican food. These customs are shared by the diverse population in San Antonio, where I grew up. Customs which I believed were practiced by others in America. It wasn’t until my family and I moved to Austin, seven years ago, that I saw the ways in which non-Latino people use this Mexican holiday as an excuse for half-priced margaritas or to perpetuate caricatures of Mexicans by dressing up in fake mustaches and sombreros.
Diez y seis de septiembre kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month. It is Mexican Independence Day, like the American Fourth of July. Every American celebrates July 4th, I wonder how many people actually know why diez y seis de septiembre is important not only in Mexican history, but American history as well.
What is diez y seis de septiembre?
On April 1, 1519, the Spanish colonized Mexico and instilled their own Spanish-born leaders to rule the indigenous and mestizo (a mix of Spanish and indigenous parentage) population. What followed for the mestizo and indigenous Mexican population were centuries of oppression and inequality. After a few generations, Mexican-born Spaniards developed an identity separate from their European ancestors. In the same way the founding fathers of America developed an American identity and wanted out from under the tyranny of British rule, the Mexican-born Spanish population wanted out from under the Spanish monarchy. They wanted independence from Spanish rule and what they deemed “bad government,” a sentiment that the oppressed population could support.
In the early morning hours of September 16th 1810, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave the “Grito de Dolores,” a speech that ended with a cry for a Mexican revolution against 300 years of Spanish rule in New Spain, the territory in the new world which would eventually become Mexico. This territory encompassed present day Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, and California. Support for independence filtered all the way up to the inhabitants in what would later become south Texas. Armies of indigenous and racially mixed revolutionaries battled Spanish soldiers and Royalists of Spanish ancestry. After the execution of Father Hidalgo, other Mexican heroes emerged to lead the charge including another priest, José María Morelos y Pavón, and Afro-Mexican Vicente Guerrero.
Why Diez y Seis matters to America
In 1821, after 11 years of combat, Mexico finally won independence from Spain. Without the hard fought war for independence between Mexicans and the Spanish, the America of today may never have existed. Once Mexico became an independent nation, the government began granting land contracts to Anglo-Americans in order to settle the sparsely populated Texas land. There were two requirements for these white immigrants coming into Mexican territory.
- Take an oath of loyalty to their new Mexican nation, an oath white immigrants went back on in less than a generation.
- Profess to be Christian. The established religion in Mexico at the time was Catholicism and it was expected for immigrants to become Catholic, although as time passed religion became a non-critical issue.
Many Texan “heroes” came to Mexico during these years including, Stephen F. Austin and Green DeWitt. Without Mexican independence, Anglo-Americans would never have been able to move into Mexican territory and subsequently create their own Texan identity. An identity which later led to the Republic of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845. What some American politicians saw as their manifest destiny, to spread over the North American continent, became a reality when men like Stephen F. Austin began moving hundreds of families into Mexican territory. Without the Mexican fight for independence, there would never have been a Republic of Texas nor a chance for the American government to fulfill their desire to expand to the west coast of North America. Mexican history is Texas history, which is also United States history, and it should be celebrated.
Celebration not Appropriation
To my non-Latino brothers and sisters, it is OK to celebrate diez y seis de septiembre! But please do so in a way that honors Mexican people and their fight for freedom. Buy those tacos, support Mexican art and artists, teach yourselves and your families about Mexican history. However, please don’t perpetuate stereotypes or caricatures of Mexican people and our culture.
What does that mean?
- Yes to papel picado and Mexican food, no to fake mustaches and panchos.
- Yes to Mexican-owned taquerias and taco trucks, these are vastly different than Taco Bell and Chipotle.
- Yes to celebrating the Mexican people’s victory and independence, no to using this day as an excuse to drink Mexican beer or buy queso at happy hour.
My hope for Hispanic Heritage month this year is that it does not end in 30 days but that the contributions Latinos have made to this country are continually acknowledged and celebrated as part of American history. There is room in our American celebrations for Anglo, African, Latino, Asian, Indian, and Native heroes.
If you want to learn more about Latin American revolutions check out this great video from Crash Course World History, one of our favorite history channels for homeschool.
To learn more about Latino history in the United States check out Latino Americans a six episode PBS documentary
For Latino contributions to Christian theology we recommend Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective by Justo Gonzalez