September: Month of independences

09/21/2017

Mexico, Central America—with the exception of Panama—and Chile celebrate their independence in September. All were colonies since the Spanish Conquest, and their independence struggles commenced in the early 18th century, processes stemming from the United States’ independence from Great Britain in 1776. Their struggles concluded much later, with the creation of the modern nation states we know today.

While the European empires—Spain, Great Britain, Portugal and others—continued to lose colonies and hegemony, the U.S. emerged as a new economic and military force that quickly replaced them, not only by conquering and colonizing, but also by invasion, expansion, annexation and purchase. No longer concerned with gaining more territory, it would impose its force and domination in other ways until it became the most powerful country on earth.

The U.S. consolidated its dominance in the 20th century, winning two world wars and dealing with the Soviet Union, which dominated areas of eastern Europe, western Asia and elsewhere through a powerful conglomeration that was essentially dismantled after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Soviet Union lost the arms and economic competition known here as the Cold War, it left America as the only legitimate world power. (China was a less powerful parallel to the Soviet Union; its incredible economic growth is slowing.)

The new ideas of the French and American Revolutions impelled various Criollo leaders in the Americas to begin the fight to free themselves of the Spanish yoke. The battles ranged from 1808 to 1925 while Spain, weakened as a monarchy, was involved in the Napoleonic Wars, the abdication of King Fernando VII and the ensuing chaos.

Mexico started its War of Independence in 1810, with a “cry of liberty” by priest Miguel Hidalgo in the town of Dolores, and ended it in 1821. The new, inexperienced and chaotic country was enormous, including present-day Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California and parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. To the south, it stretched as far as Panama, then part of Colombia. So  the traditional celebration of Mexico’s independence on Sept. 16 and the popular ceremonial commemoration of “el Grito” the night before is relevant to all those American states and Central American countries, because it celebrates the start of the battle that freed them from Spanish domination. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica now celebrate their independence on Sept. 15, the day they gained independence in 1821.

The independence celebrated in this country on July 4 never took place in the aforementioned American states—or have anything to do with them—as it only concerned the 13 colonies liberated from Great Britain. The same is true for the other territories of the United States that were not part of the original 13, which would eventually expand their borders by seven times. The history we are taught allows for certain inconsistencies—such as people in places like Hawaii and Alaska celebrating July Fourth without major problems (though you’d have to ask the natives).

It is interesting that the immigrants and descendants of Mexicans here don’t celebrate Mexican independence much, although they certainly recognize the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. There are almost no popular celebrations in the U.S. that commemorate the independence of Mexico and Central America and practically no one acknowledges that California, Texas or Arizona—just to mention a few places—were ever Spanish colonies and part of Mexico. This, despite the overwhelming number of Spanish names of states, cities, towns, places and geographic points, or the remains of Missions and other buildings established and inhabited by those who likely knew little of the original 13 American colonies and who didn’t speak English or practice Protestantism.

Instead, the remembrance is relegated to officialdom, such as with the declaration 43 years ago of “Hispanic Month,” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Also known as “Hispanic Pride Month,” this celebration aims to remember the values and heritage of the largest group of immigrants in the United States, although the term “Hispanic” somewhat contradicts the independent spirit of those people, who fought against the “Hispanics”—that is, the ones from Spain. There are also formal celebrations here at the embassies and consulates of Mexico, the Central American countries and Chile, but they don’t really include immigrants from those countries. The celebrants are local authorities and important people here or at home. 

So, a happy Independence month to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Chile, and, just in case, a happy Semi-Independence month to California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas (although Texas later became independent from Mexico, before joining the United States).

 

Victor Reyes, a Cotati resident, is a teacher and translator with long ties to the Light.