My school life in Mexico ranged from interesting to boring. From the second grade on, my education took place in the most important public school in Puebla, my city: Centro Escolar Niños Héroes de Chapultepec. Everybody called it simply, “Centro Escolar,” not realizing that this name is a description (School Center), much the same as “United States” is for the country.
The idea was original and ambitious: a public school with high educational requirements and a quasi-military discipline. It had nursery, kindergarten, primary, and the equivalent to middle and high school, plus a trade school as well as night elementary for low-income students. As a public school, it had to be accessible to all social groups, but due to its high educational level, it was taken over by students from the middle and higher classes.
Its facilities covered twelve blocks, with a gym, sports fields, swimming pool, patios, spacious classrooms and laboratories. Each school (kindergarten, primary, etc.) was separated and had a massive student body. Each grade, from kindergarten to high school, had up to nine classes with as many as 60 students each. Total enrollment was between three and four thousand students. No private school came close.
If you didn’t do the work and pass the grade, you left the school. Since kindergarten, we marched to and from classes. From fifth grade on, every Friday there was an hour of marching practice. On Mondays, a flag ceremony took place, where we stayed under the sun in military formations according to grade and sex, and marched before the school authorities. Not fun at all!
During April we practiced and prepared to march in the school parade for the Cinco de Mayo celebration. This and other celebrations relaxed or suspended classes, which was always something enjoyable. On April 30 we celebrated the Child’s Day; on May 1, Labor Day; on May 10, Mother’s Day; on May 15, Teacher’s Day. A beautiful month! Sept. 16 brought another school parade for Independence Day. But on the night of the 15th came the celebration of el Grito de Independencia (the Cry of Independence), with the Mexican president addressing the people from the National Palace while every state governor and city mayor did the same. Families watched “el Grito” on television, with traditional food, in a patriotic and festive atmosphere.
Sept. 13 brought the Day of Heroic Boys of Chapultepec, a minor commemoration in the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. It is said that young cadets died in the castle defending Mexico from the invading Americans in 1847. Because its name commemorated those boy heroes, my school had a special celebration. We marched in that one too.
In this country, many Mexicans, along with most U.S. citizens, don’t remember this date nor what it stands for. Many citizens also don’t know that the United States seized much of the vast northern territories of the then young, poor and disorganized Mexican nation, which lost more than half of its territory in that infamous war.
In 1821, when Mexico obtained independence from Spain, Mexico delegated Moses Austin to colonize part of Texas with 300 foreign families. In 12 years, the number of American colonists outnumbered the Mexicans. The Americans didn’t want to depend on the Mexican government or pay taxes to it. Nor did they want to speak Spanish or be Catholic. When the Mexican government imposed customs houses and fortifications on them, Steve Austin, son of Moses, rebelled against these impositions. U.S. representatives in Mexico demanded that the fortifications be cancelled.
In 1833, Austin succeeded in persuading Mexico to grant Texas status as separate from the state of Coahuila, and in 1835 he attacked and defeated the Mexican soldiers in the fortifications. Mexican president Santa Anna then attacked with 6,000 men and suppressed the rebellion, but in 1836 he was surprised while asleep and taken as prisoner to San Jacinto where he was made to sign the Treaty of Velasco, thus ending the war and granting Texas its independence.
In 1845, the United States admitted Texas to the Union, although Mexico considered this cause for war. Also, Texas wanted to extend its limits to the Rio Bravo instead of the Rio Nueces, as the accords stated. While the Mexican generals fought over power, the American army occupied Santa Fe and Los Angeles—in spite of Californian resistance—then crossed the Rio Bravo and penetrated into the north of Mexico. In Veracruz, General Winfield Scott came ashore and defeated Santa Anna. He occupied Jalapa and Puebla and arrived in Mexico City in August of 1847, where he won two battles and, on September 13, he took the Castle of Chapultepec, defeating the young cadets who defended it and who thus passed into history as the Heroic Boys.
On Feb. 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, in which Mexico ceded what is now known as California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma to the United States. All this was in exchange for the ridiculously small sum of $15 million for war damages. This territory in which we now live was in reality made independent from Spain in 1821 as part of Mexico, but nobody here celebrates Sept. 15 and 16, nor Feb. 2 when the United States appropriated it. It has nothing to do with July 4.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher, writer and native of Puebla, Mexico, with decades-old ties to the Light.