By María del Sagrario
For Mexicanos, Independence Day comes twice in one year
As many of you might already know and much like America's Independence Day, México's Independence Day symbolizes its country's historical struggle to liberate themselves from the Spanish crown. Spain conquered México in 1521, and for the next 300 years exploited and labored to deaths of Indians and Blacks, wiping out 90 percent of the native population, all for economic gain. What do you know, much like the American colonials. El Grito de Dolores (the call to arms) by Father Miguel Hidalgo, much like Paul Revere's famous ride, began the Mexican revolution and ended with the birth of México in 1821.
At that time, what we know today to be the Southwest was México and populated by Mexican people. Being a new country, unlike the United States, which had already fought for its liberty 54 years earlier, México needed time to rebuild and unite its 6 million citizens. Its efforts were made through the celebration of customs and holidays like Independence Day. City streets were filled with people, dancing and singing, enjoying food and music. The celebrations were highlighted with the dramatic retelling by the town's declamador, who would recount the events of the night the war began, including the struggles and the battles fought and won and honoring those who fought and still lived.
But in 1846, what México viewed as an act of defending its national borders as the Americans invaded Texas was ironically considered to be an invasion by president James Polk, who declared war on México. After the war, and practically overnight, Mexicans who were left in parts of the country taken from México were made American citizens. Now, with the help of Solomon Baldenegro, assistant dean of Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs, I present this point of view. If Canada was a Russian-speaking country and its government were to invade the United States, naturally, Americans would resist and refuse to stop celebrating American holidays and their heritage, right? And that is why Mexican-Americans continue to celebrate September 16 with such passion and color. "Emotionally and psychologically, that generation of Mexicans were still Mexicanos in their hearts. One cannot deny that this was once México and it was occupied by Mexicanos who celebrated costumbres (customs) Méxicanas!
The second reason is that in spite of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which guaranteed American citizenship and American rights to the Mexicanos left in the Southwest, a series of Greaser Laws and policies were passed prohibiting Mexicanos from speaking their language and celebrating their customs.
"The conqueror gets to make the rules," Baldenegro explains. "And they did everything to outlaw Spanish and Mexican customs." So, as an act of resistance, small communities began celebrating Independence Day. To many, it was an unjust war and still very much México as 150 Spanish-language publications continued circulating and reminding Mexicanos not to forget what they loved.
The third and most important reason is that it was and still is a way for the Mexican people to keep in touch with our roots, culture and heritage. It's no different than Irish Americans celebrating St. Patrick's Day and Italian Americans celebrating Christopher Columbus Day. "Humans need to personally and collectively keep in touch," Baldenegro continues. "Children who are adopted find the need to search for what was once theirs."
Even though Baldenegro does not like the commercial aspect Independence Day has taken over the years, he says we as a people must take the time to recognize this day as much more than just a Mexican holiday and a party time.
It is a time for everyone to reflect on the struggles fought and won by loyal and courageous people who refused to let their culture die. It is a time to celebrate heritage and tradition and to remember where we came from; how we got to where we are now; and why we must take our rightful place in this country's history. A time for recognizing that not only have Mexicanos assimilated, so have Americans acculturated.
Tacos, salsa and chips are now part of everyday Anglo American life, as is Tex-Mex music, the Spanish language and the whole tradition of the vaquero (cowboy) lifestyle. In mentioning the similarities, by no means am I saying we, as Mexicanos, want to be like Anglo Americans. We want Anglo Americans to appreciate our difference by understanding the similarities in the struggles that both our peoples have faced.
So, for all of you new, East Coast students who have never seen Mexicans, except as landscapers, janitors and maids, here's a personal invitation to come and take part this weekend and join a fiesta. The party starts tonight and runs until Monday night. Come out and taste the culture, experience the tradition and live a little bit of Mexican history.
¡Paz a mi gente y que viva la Raza!
María del Sagrario Ramírez is a senior majoring in Mexican-American studies and journalism.