(The following is a guest post by Barbara A. Tenenbaum, specialist in Mexican culture in the Library of Congress Hispanic Division.)
It seems a bit strange that in contrast to all the other “heritage” celebrations and recognitions, the one for Hispanic Americans starts in the middle of the month – September 15 to be exact. That selection, however, has profound roots in Hispanic history.
The vast majority of Hispanics living in the United States come from Mexico and Central America. Those areas are deeply connected to that date because their independence day is either on September 15 or September 16.
Originally, Mexico (much larger than it is today, including Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of several other states) and all the nations of Central America except Panama – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua – were all part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Spanish Crown had ruled the Viceroyalty of New Spain for almost 300 years when its Mexican residents began to think about becoming a co-equal kingdom or independent from the mother country. The Bourbon Reforms (1766-1804) had brought with them new taxes, new restrictions on native-born Spaniards, and the exile of the Jesuit order among other things. Further, many Mexican residents wanted to trade freely and legally with other powers like Britain, France, and the United States.
At midnight on the night of Sept. 15, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla began his campaign for Mexican independence and rang the church bells in the town of Dolores in the present-state of Guanajuato, Mexico, proclaiming, “Viva la independencia y mueran los gachupines!” (Long live independence and death to the Spaniards!”) Hidalgo knew he would soon be arrested along with other co-conspirators who had been discovered by the authorities and decided to advance the process by beginning the movement immediately. At its height, the Hidalgo insurgency had approximately 50,000 members, most of whom were Indians.
Royalist forces eventually defeated and captured Hidalgo and his supporters, but others continued the movement, including José María Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero. On Feb. 24, 1821, royalist officer Agustín de Iturbide adopted the independence cause and issued the “Plan de Iguala,” calling for independence from Spain, the adoption of Roman Catholicism as the state religion, and the legal equality of whites and mixed races. Ultimately, Mexico and Central America became independent from Spain in 1821.
Iturbide declared himself emperor in December 1821 and Central America agreed to become part of royalist Mexico. However, Iturbide was forced to abdicate the throne in March 1823, and the countries of Central America left Mexico in July, with the significant exception of Chiapas. Those nations declared September 15 as their Independence Day, while Mexico went with September 16, to mark when Hidalgo delivered his famous “Grito de Delores” battle cry of independence.