Today is the eve of Mexican Independence Day, a day when Mexicans gather in the town square or zocalo to hear reenactments of Father Miguel Hidalgo’s famous cry in 1810 encouraging revolt from Spain. “Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!” No one really knows what Fr. Hidalgo said but his words sparked a decade of war, concluding with the definitive separation from Spain.
For many years I have wanted to attend “El Grito”, as the famous speech is called, in Mexico City’s Zocalo. The President of Mexico comes to the balcony of the Palacio Nacional at 11 p.m., rings a bell, raises his hand, and gustily yells a few key patriotic phrases. These phrases, in fact, are intended to resonate with the crowd below, indicators of the President’s primary preoccupations for his country. The President then concludes the Grito by yelling “Viva Mexico!” Then he waves the flag of Mexico for the crowd below, fireworks go off, and the national anthem is sung. Safe on my own balcony at the Majestic Hotel across the plaza, tequila in hand and surrounded by amigos, I could not imagine a better way to celebrate the day than to witness this tradition.
When I lived in Mexico City, however, I had small children and attending this event was an expensive endeavor. Now of course it is just plain unthinkable. Martita, who still lives in el D. F., reported recently reported that a severed head was found in the Santa Fe area of Mexico City. Once an enormous landfill, Santa Fe was transformed into a massive commercial center on the outskirts of town, home to department stores, restaurants, hotels, and office buildings. Severed heads in one’s figurative backyard tend to make one think twice about venturing out to the Zocalo for Independence Day.
As I write this, Mexico is still fighting for its independence. Two centuries after that particular war was waged, another rages on. Mexico remains chained to its own, self-inflicted, crippled political system. The Mexico of the fifteen years ago was scary enough so I am unable to grasp the enormity of the current conflict (which is really just an intensified accumulation of the old one). In my heart I am going to scream loudly tonight for Mexican freedom from corruption, from the drug trade, from ceaseless violence. And maybe one day I’ll be able to witness the real deal with Martita and friends, singing the Mexican national anthem from the rooftop of the Majestic after a fine meal of chiles en nogada, screaming with the best of them.
For you can leave a country, but the country never really leaves you.