On September 16, 1810, a progressive priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla became the father of Mexican independence with a historic proclamation urging his fellow Mexicans to take up arms against the Spanish government. Known as the “Grito de Dolores,” Hidalgo’s declaration launched a decade-long struggle that ended 300 years of colonial rule, established an independent Mexico and helped cultivate a unique Mexican identity. Its anniversary is now celebrated as the country’s birthday. So named because it was publicly read in the town of Dolores, the Grito called for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico, the redistribution of land and a concept that the criollos’ earlier plans had deliberately omitted: racial equality. Though a criollo himself, Hidalgo extended his call to arms to mestizos and people of indigenous descent; their significant contribution of manpower changed the tenor of the revolt.
Hidalgo led his growing militia from village to village en route to Mexico City, leaving in their wake a bloodbath that he later came to deeply regret. Defeated in January 1811, Hidalgo fled north but was captured and executed by firing squad in Chihuahua. Others took the helm of the rebellion, including José María Morelos y Pavón, Mariano Matamoros and Vicente Guerrero, who all led armies of indigenous and racially mixed revolutionaries against the Spanish royalists. The conflict dragged on until 1821, when the Treaty of Córdoba established Mexico as an independent country.
Although September 16, 1810 marked the beginning of Mexico’s struggle for independence rather than its ultimate achievement, the anniversary of the Grito de Dolores has been a day of celebration across Mexico since the late 19th century. The holiday begins on the evening of September 15 with a symbolic reenactment of Hidalgo’s historic proclamation by the president of the republic and the city presidents in all the country. The next day, typical activities include parades, bullfights, rodeos and traditional dancing.
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