This article is from the April 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.
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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, including Allende.  

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.”