Posted by: turtlebella | 13 September 2006

Race and Mexican Independence

Mexican Independence Day is approaching- 16 de Septiembre. In light of this holiday,* I thought I would try to post these next few days regarding it. Sometimes it will not be much, or just random musings of mine. But some days I will try to post some more historical information and the like, in an effort, mostly, to educate myself.
Today I’d like to talk about some about Padre Hidalgo. He is remembered as calling for the war of independence against the colonialist Spain. His Grito** de Dolores is infamous (even if no one can accurately determine what it was he originally said): “Mexicanos Viva Mexico!” At some point “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” seems to have been added to the grito. The army he raised made it all the way to Mexico City but he then retreated, although the war continued until 1821 when Spain granted Mexico its independence.

Now, according to wikipedia, Hidalgo was a criollo, a Mexican of Spanish descent, with no native or African ancestors. This is in contrast to gachupines, those who were native Spaniards and who had cultural, political authority over criollos, mestizos (literally, those of mixed descent, Spanish and native indian), and indian and who had cruelly oppressed them for a long time. So Hidalgo was “white.” However, in this image I found, Hidalgo is presented as very much being “colored,” especially since there is another man in the painting who is “white.”

Hidalgo, on the left, is crowning la patria Mexicana. Now, I think you can agree with me that’s one dark dude! I doubt that Padre Hidalgo was that dark, especially since in all other depictions that I’ve seen of him he looks much more European, for example:

hidalgo3.jpg hidalgo1.jpe

So it got me to thinking, why might the artist of the first image above chosen to paint Hidalgo so much darker than he may have been. And I think it’s a significant choice. The war of independence was basically fought for (and with) the native Indians and mestizos who were the most brutally treated by the Spanish. While the criollos were probably not treated well, I’m guessing the Indians and the mestizos bore most of the brunt of Spanish institutionalized racism. And so to depict this hero of the War of Independence as at least mestizo seems to say that Hidalgo was a honorarily mestizo or Indio. And it would seem to me to give him more authenticity as a man of la raza rather than one of a race that was dominant in that time (what am I saying, Anglo-Europeans are dominant in this time too!).

*Frankly most Americans don’t know much about the 16 de Septiembre. Many erroneously think that 5 de Mayo is the Mexican Independence, but that’s a whole ‘nother post! And to confuse things more, there are other revolutions within Mexican history as well…

**Update. The sqvirrel pointed out that not everyone might know what a grito is. It’s a shout.  Here, there is a bit of a pun, Grito de Dolores literally means Shout from/of Dolores, since Dolores is the town where Hidalgo was.  But Dolores also means pain, so shout of pain- the pain of the people under Spanish colonization.



  1. The other possibility about the picture is that it is from a European perspective, and that Hidalgo is being portrayed as a mestizo in order to make the European man opposite him look like he’s “granting” independence to the Mexicans. Is the guy supposed to be French or what?

  2. Okay, so it gets even more interesting… the guy of the right is Agustín Iturbide, who according to Texas A&M site on the Mexican Independence was a mestizo accepted as a criollo who opposed the insurgent approach to independence, formed a junta with revolutionary Vicente Guerro to engineer Mexican independence in 1821. So really weird that he is portrayed as totally white!

  3. Yeah, I did a bit of research (online) too– I didn’t find that info on Iturbide’s ethnicity (read that he was born of Spanish parents in Mexico shortly after they moved there, which would make him certainly a criollo and almost a whatsitcalled), but… I’m now wondering if the other person in this picture is actually Guerrero (who was a “mulatto ex-slave,” according to one site)– especially since if I’ve got the timeline right Hidalgo was already dead by the time Iturbide really came on the scene. Too bad I can’t find any other sources for this picture which have more info…

  4. wow, that is so interesting turtle!!!! I’m *loving* this series you’re doing–you know what’s really interesting too–is getting into images of how native women are represented–especially malinche. I did my reserch (when i thought i was going to grad school) on her and representations of her from an indigenous perspective that centered soveriegnty issues. so in other words, while malinche may have been acting traitorous (according to male historians) she was acting as a representive of a soveriegn nation NOT mexico, so where do a bunch of men (probably mestizos/criollos and most definitly chicanos in the U.S get of rewriting her story as one of traitor-ness to mexico, when native women have never been especially loyal to mexico??? you know?

    anyway, very interesting!!

  5. bfp, oooh, you know, you should do a post about malinche. Cos I was always taught that malinche was traitor absolutely, didn’t know about this other perspective. But when my mom lived in New Mexico there is a whole festival that celebrates her. We were so surprised! This stuff is so interesting, how there are different interpretations on her actions, depending on who you are. And that of course in history it’s the men who write it …so.

  6. thanks for educating me, turtlebella!

    now i see what you were up to yesterday!

  7. If I remember correctly, my wife was taking a Chicano art class at our local California State University. I went on a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and they had a permanent exhibit of Casta system paintings that were beautiful. The permanent exhibit was not received well by the Hispanic public, especially the Mexican public. I heard her professor who organized the trip that those individuals of dark complexion who were mestizos, mulattos, Indios, and negros were painted a lighter complexion. This was done with the purpose to depict them in a positive light opposed to dark colored individuals who are poor an lower socio-economic status like that society saw them. Hidalgo was in fact the darker (not really dark) liberator that he was. If you do some research he was depicted lighter skin because that is how the colonial Mexican public wanted to depict him in art as a white criollo. Anyone with the last name hidalgo was considered nobility from Spain. This us according to the Spanish royal crown. If you were wealthy and in a good socio-economic status such as a trader or merchant you could say your Spanish and of “pure blood”. I am Mexican and passionate about these issues. I know these things for a fact this was the case with hidalgo.

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