This article is from the April 2001 The Mexico File
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What, or where, is “Colonial Mexico”?
The term “Colonial Mexico” in travel guides usually refers to the
middle area of the country containing Dolores Hidalgo, San Miguel de Allende and
Guanajuato. That term is in error. The area is more accurately described as the
“Cradle of Independence” or “Cuna de Independience.”
“Colonial Mexico” is actually an era, from 1550 to 1820 when Mexico
was known as “New Spain.” The Spaniards and their supporters were in full
and firm control. They were so confident that they sent an Austrian Archduke
named Maximilian to be Emperor of Mexico.
Despite the fact that Spain was ruling Mexico, there was widespread
dissatisfaction. The indigenous people were enslaved and the wealth of Mexico
was shipped to Spain in vast quantities. Even the white decendants of the
conquistadors, Creoles, were subjugated by the the Spanish-born officials. The
Spaniards were referred to as “gachupines” – those with spurs.
The War of Independence started almost by accident. Padre Miguel Hidalgo
Y Costillo was a 60-year-old priest in the Town of Dolores. He had won the
affection and respect of his Indian parishioners by teaching them to plant
grapevines, mulberries and olives, and to manufacture new kinds of crafts. The
Spanish authorities thought that the Indians should not produce cash crops and
they cut down the vines and trees.
About this time, a group of Creoles in Guadalajara were discussing the
possibility of a bloodless move toward independence. Among its members was a
young landowner named Ignacio Allende. The Creoles proposed to claim
independence from Spain at San Juan del Lago in December 1810. Somehow the plan
leaked out and on September 13, 1810, a warrant was issued for the conspirators,
They were warned in time and rode furiously to Dolores to consult with
Hidalgo. Hidalgo decided on the spot not to wait to be arrested or to try to
form an army. He decided to act immediately. He rang the church bell and, when
his parishioners gathered, announced his plan to overthrow the gachpines who had
suppressed them for so long. He issue his famous “grito,” his cry for
freedom, and the War of Independence started.
Armed with machetes, axes and knives, the ragtag group of peons marched
toward San Miguel and beyond to liberate Mexico. The Spanish were at first
surprised and then amused. But the army kept growing and by the time they
reached San Miguel there were 50,000 of them. By this time they were rampaging
and looting and Hidalgo was horrified. Also, by this time Allende had real
troops to command.
The rebels headed for Guanajuato where miners and more Indians joined
Hidalgo. The resident governor knew he could not defend the whole town so he
gathered his supporters and whatever armament he could and they barricaded
themselves in the Granary. The rest is history.
Although both Hidalgo and Allende were beheaded later, their fame lives
on. Today, the town of Dolores is Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel is San Miguel
de Allende. The two towns share the title, “Cradle of Independence.”