The Grito de Dolores

Photo: Juan O’Gorman

It’s a busy weekend for Latin American history buffs, as Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica celebrate their independence on September 15 and Mexico on September 16. That’s nearly a third of all Spanish-speaking countries in a single weekend!

This is largely due to how events unfolded two centuries ago, at the time of the independence wars – the main reason the Spanish-speaking world has 20 countries.

In the case of Mexico, Grito de Dolores (Cry from Dolores) happened on September 16, 1810 – a favorite theme of Mexican mural art. That day Miguel Hidalgo, a parish priest of the town of Dolores, rang his church bell and called for independence and sedition against the Spanish crown. It did not pan out exactly as he planned – Miguel Hidalgo died before a firing squad 10 months later and it took Mexicans 11 more years to achieve independence. Yet the date rings strong for Mexicans – literally. Each September 16, Mexican presidents reenact El Grito by solemnly ringing Hidalgo’s bell and calling out the names of Mexican heroes.

Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica celebrate September 15 as their day of independence from Spain in 1821. Interestingly, none of the Central American republics were separate political entities in 1821, but provinces of the First Mexican Empire. This Empire encompassed the entire territory of the former vice-royalty of New Spain, a territory that stretched from Oregon to Costa-Rica. This Empire declared its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821.

The Central American countries didn’t really become independent for another twenty years. In 1823, the First Mexican Empire split into two separate entities: the northern Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States) and a smaller Federal Republic of Central America, comprised of the southern provinces. The Central American Republic was short-lived. Between 1838 and 1841, civil war broke out and each province became an independent country.

For the record, in 1821, California, New Mexico and Texas were also part of the First Mexican Empire. Texas became independent from Mexico in 1836. New Mexico and California were annexed by the United States 12 years later. But in a way, September 15 is also their Independence Day  – from Spain.

More stories on how Spain lost its New World Empire can be found in our new book, The Story of Spanish, to be released April 2013 (St. Martin’s Press).

The Story of Spanish