Día de independenciaAuthor: psp32 | Filed under: Uncategorized
Red, white and green, the banner proudly flies. Red, white and green, the lights glow in the night. Red, white and green, the cloth spills out of the stores. It is Septiembre, mes de la patria, and in Mérida, the celebration of the Mexican state is already well underway, though Independence Day itself is not celebrated until the 15th and 16th. You must understand that independence was not won in a single day, but took over eleven years. The war began in September. It ended in September as well. But, the roots are far older, almost as old as the conquista itself. So, let us begin at the beginning…
In the city the stone is red, red as the pomegranate for which it is named, and as cracked as the fruit when you pluck the ruby seeds. Yet, Granada is still proud though it offers its riches to the invading Castilian army, commanded by the Catholic Queen, Queen Isabella I. At the time of the reconquista, Granada is the richest city in Spain, the last stronghold of the Moorish Empire. But in 1492, its riches will be plucked to pay the violent youth of the Spanish army. Isabella’s Castillo is a state run on two principles: conquest and inquisition. It must be that way because there is not enough land for all the nobility to inherent. Only the oldest sons receive title and land, so the younger must be used for something. Thus they solidify the reign of Christianity in Castillo: religious and secular, the younger sons form the prongs of Isabella’s Christian conquest. Yet, though the Catholic Queen has succeeded, though she finally rules over a Christian empire that spans the Iberian Peninsula, the queen is worried. She has no more enemies at home and has a standing army that must be employed. That is why she funded the crazy one, that Christopher Columbus. If he finds China and India like he says, she will have a place to deploy the younger sons, enough land to satisfy their increasing hunger, and enough power to make them hers forever. Forever Christian, forever grateful and forever loyal. With the additional benefits of trade and exploitation of resources, Spain cannot loose, at least not if Columbus succeeds.
Do you call it success, reaching an unknown island with unknown people and claiming them as your own? Do you call it success to destroy the learning of untold civilizations, to wipe out people with disease and destroy their world with war? Do you call it success to reach the wrong continent and stay there because it offers more riches than you dreamed existed? Well, Columbus never reached India; instead he arrived in Hispaniola, today known as Cuba, and from there, the Spanish army penetrated the American continent. The horrors of conquest for the indigenous peoples need not be discussed, for that is a different story. What you need to know is that the Spanish colony was established. And it was done in a very well-planned manner: Isabella sent over specific conquistadores with their army of younger sons. These younger sons destroyed the indigenous nobility and put themselves in the highest ranking positions in the Americas, recreating the Castilian feudal land holdings in the Americas, governed by the pre-existing American tribute hierarchy. Then, they imported Spanish women and other cattle to recreate Spain. And so, the criollos were born, full blooded Spaniards born in the Americas.
As long as they ruled their lands with complete title, the conquistadores and succeeding generations of criollos were content to pay a minor tribute to the Spanish crown. It didn’t hurt them; in fact, it granted them higher title in Spanish nobility and the minor tribute was more than enough to keep Spain happily occupied fighting France and Britain. And so the system continued until 1700, when Felipe V, the first Bourbon monarch, took control of Spanish politics. The truth is that Spain could not afford to keep up with the Jonses of war torn Europe and fighting drained the treasury of every last penny. When the British destroyed the Spanish Armada in 1588, Spain lost hegemony in the Atlantic and no longer monopolized trade with the new world. Major reforms were needed in the American tribute system if Spain was going to keep up with the Jonses. And so the Bourbon kings interfered in the Americas.
They established new viceroyalties, based not on blood or title, but on merit and loyalty to the Bourbon line. They sent in accountants to analyze the situation and report how much money the criollos were not sending to the Spanish crown. They sent tax collectors to retrieve that forgotten payment and Spanish judges to hold trials over lands and title. In short, the Bourbon Reforms stripped the criollos of their privileges and their power, placing it instead in the hands of peninsulares, Spaniards born in the peninsula who knew nothing about and cared nothing for the Americas. For neigh on a century the reforms continued, redistributing power and resources and resentment grew.
In 1810, the situation exploded. The criollos were tired of being treated as second class; they were as Spanish as the peninsulares and deserved as many rights in the realms of economics and politics. And so on September 15, 1810 the priest Miguel Hidalgo delivered the Grito de Dolores, which not only decried the lack of rights of American-born Spaniards, but also protested the lot of indigenous people in the Spanish system and insisted in the abolition of slavery. You see, Hidalgo was an idealist and dreamed of a Spanish-America free from corruption and prejudice. On September 16, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon declared Nueva España, as the northern viceroyalty was known, independent from Spain and launched a guerilla war against the peninsulares. He, too, was a priest and an idealist, though a better military strategist than his counterpart Hidalgo.
Both were killed in short order, but Spain was facing other bigger problems than simply the rebellion of all the viceroyalties of the Americas: the Spanish monarch had once again been deposed and was this time replaced by Jose Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon. Spain was embroiled in four simultaneous civil wars and finally in 1820, attempted to end all four with the Constitucion de Cadiz. Yet, by this time, it was too late. Ten years of war had transformed even monarchists into independistas. The most important change was that of Agustín de Iturbide, who defected from his post as the commander of the Spanish army to join the independista cause. In September, Itubide declared the Plan de Iguala, and adopted the strategy that finally ended the war. In September a year later, on 27 September of 1821, the war was finally over and Mexico was an independent nation.
Mexico was not a republic, not at the beginning. It was an empire. It was the empire of Iturbide, who was executed on July 19 of 1822. Chaos ensued and finally, on 4 October of 1824, the first Mexican republic was established. The rabidly federalist constitution that governed this new republic was written during the month of September. Yet, the developing nation was not left in peace to work out the constitution’s problems; the center of attention for the voracious and expanding United States and the bickering and failing empires of Europe, Mexico was whipped around in an international power play for decades. However, Mexico remains.
And it is independent and it is beautiful. The people are proud of their country and that is what this month is about: celebrating the beauty and pride that makes Mexico what it is. So, they hoist the red, white and green. They hoist the colors from the doors and the windows, from the grandest political edifice to the most humble of homes. The colors adorn cars, motorcycles and public transporation. The flag bespeaks history, but more importantly, it reflects identity.