By Allan Wall
September 17, 2010
This year, 2010, Mexico is celebrating both its bicentennial and its centennial.
This may seem rather puzzling to those unfamiliar with Mexico’s complex history. What is being celebrated? How can 2010 be both a centennial and a bicentennial?
In Mexican history, the Independence struggle and the Revolution are two separate historical periods, separated by about a hundred years. So this year, the country celebrates the bicentennial of the former and the centennial of the latter.
The Mexican Revolution began 100 years ago, on November 20th, 1910.
Simultaneously the country is celebrating 200 years of independence.
Well, sort of. Actually Mexico did not become independent until 1821. But the independence movement began in September of 1810.
Well, sort of. Actually what began in 1810 was not at first an independence movement, but it became an independence movement later.
The movement began as an uprising against the Spaniards.
Well, sort of. Actually, in 1810, Spain itself was not independent, as it had been conquered two years earlier by Napoleon, who put his brother on the throne. That left the Spanish Empire in a power vacuum, which began to be filled by movements in the colonies to take control.
This set in motion the eventual loss of all Spain’s mainland colonies in North and South America, by 1829.
That also explains why Mexico is not the only Latin American country celebrating its independence in these years. In 2010, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina also celebrate bicentennials.
Mexican Independence Day is celebrated on the 15th and 16th of September, and commemorates when Miguel Hidalgo started his public movement against the government of the viceroy.
Hidalgo, a priest, gathered the people in front of the church on the plaza, where he gave a speech and rang a bell (similar to our own Liberty Bell) and called the people to action.
of Hidalgo’s original “shout” (Grito), the
time-honored tradition is for Mexicans to gather in plazas in cities large and small. There are speeches and performances. At 11:00 p.m., the mayor (or governor or president), on the balcony, waves a flag and shouts vivas in honor of Hidalgo and other Independence figures, and of course “Viva Mexico!” Then fireworks are detonated.
Since this year is the Bicentennial, the annual Grito to be held in the main Mexican Zocalo plaza is supposed to be a big one. So is the traditional Independence Parade scheduled for the 16th.
it’s the Bicentennial/Centennial, there are all sorts of
festivities and observances this year. It’s been calculated that over 700 activities celebrating the bicentennial/centennial are being held.
The bicentennial/centennial is being commemorated by various cultural, artistic and educational programs. There are ceremonies, conferences, radio shows and art exhibitions. Mexican television stations are broadcasting related programming and highways are marked with Ruta 2010 signs indicating historical routes.
Besides the federal government, all 31 Mexican states and the Federal District (Mexico City) are holding observances. Furthermore, the celebrations are expanding beyond Mexico’s borders as Mexican embassies and consulates host related events in other countries. All in all, it’s a big celebration.
Even Spain, the former colonial power in Mexico, is involved in the festivities. For example, this past May in a ceremony in Santander, Spain, the two countries exchanged military standards taken from each other in the past. Mexico gave Spain back some banners taken in a battle in 1829. Spain gave Mexico back some which were taken back in 1811.
Spain also participated with Mexico and various Latin American countries in a regatta of tall sailing ships that celebrated the bicentennials of the Latin American nations and their navies.
Is it ironic that Spain cooperates with Mexico in the bicentennial of its independence from Spain?
Maybe, but why not? I recall the U.S. bicentennial in 1976, in which the British participated by loaning us the Magna Carta. This historic document, signed in 1215 and a precursor of our constitution, was exhibited in the U.S. Capitol where many Americans, including myself, were able to see it.
Besides, Spain still shares a common language with the Spanish-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere. Spanish pop stars and authors sell their CDs and books in Latin America. And Spanish investors have a lot of money invested there. In fact, after the U.S., Spain is the second largest outside investor in the region.
Really, the Spaniards can now do about anything in Latin America except run the place. Given the problems in Mexico and other countries, they’re probably relieved they no longer have to.
A nation needs its shared traditions, its heroes and its patriotic festivals. These things help form its national identity. Mexico has its national traditions which include its Independence Day and Revolution Day. Given that this year is the bicentennial of the former and the centennial of the latter, it’s a time for Mexicans to reflect on their history and think about the future.
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My wish for Mexico is a happy Bicentennial and Centennial. May it be a time for celebration, reflection and the construction of a prosperous future.
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.