THE OTHER CONQUEST: COLONIAL MEXICO
The Spaniards had conquered; a new era began: Nueva España. Mexico became a viceroyalty of Spain, its capital was built upon the ruins of Tenochtitlán and named ‘México Tenochtitlán’, renamed in 1584 as ‘La Ciudad de México’ – Mexico City. New laws were instated, such as one stating no cruelty to the indigenous people, but they were not very well enforced. Some colonial officials such as Nuño de Guzmán became notorious for their cruelty.
The Spanish crown sent the Catholic church to the new land and convert the pagans; churches went up left and right, using indigenous people as workers (some would say slaves). Along with it went the Spanish Inquisition and the auto de fé – public ceremonies of the Inquisition kind that included hangings and burnings of the heathen. This went on from 1571 to 1850 – when the very last auto de fé took place. That is not to say that all clergy were evil; there were a few, such as Vasco de Quiroga. who defended the indigenous people and truly did portray love.
The indigenous people may have been protected, but they had no rights in the eyes of the Crown. Three centuries of this can leave a bad taste…
VIVA MEXICO! THE CRY FOR INDEPENDENCE
We now arrive in 1810. The encomienda system is in place: land, property and slaves are given to high-ranking Spaniards: appointed officials, military and the rich; the Catholic church controls the rest.
Put yourself in their sandals. Imagine yourself as an indigenous person of Mexico: Your people were once under the cruel Mexica/Azteca dominion. Your people thought they were finally free of domination; your people even assisted Cortés and his cronies to usurp the Mexicas! Along comes the Catholic church, telling you about their just, all-loving God, convincing you- more often than not by force- to convert to Catholicism – or die. You were made slaves by the very people you thought came to set you free. The church which talked about love does not even allow you entrance into the churches your people labored to build. You are not allowed to own land or horses- those are privileges given only to those with pure Spanish blood.
Try another pair of shoes on. Picture yourself as a Meztizo (part Spanish, part indigenous). While Spanish blood flows through your veins, your blood is ‘tainted’ and therefore your rights are limited; you are considered to be above indigenous; below Criollo.
Change shoes: now you are a Criollo– a person of pure Spanish blood, but born in Mexico. Sure, you’re pure-blooded, but still considered lower than the high-ranking Peninsulares: those born in Spain. While some Criollos have positions of power, the Peninsulares (AKA by derogatory term, Gachupines) are given preference by the Crown. You are highly-educated, well-read and familiar with the ‘Enlightenment’; freedom, democracy and Utopia are discussed in your circle. Many ‘enlightened’ circles speak of discontent, with talk of overthrowing the Gachupines and ending the privileges that are making nobles and the church richer. Think about it. Unless you are a Gachupín, you can understand why a revolt is inevitable.
Secret meetings were held all over New Spain, although it was treason to even whisper of freedom from the Crown. These groups were not exclusively male; highly-educated Criollo women also partook in discussions. One of Mexico’s greatest heroines, Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez (AKA La Corregidora/magistrate), was such a woman. She and her magistrate husband were sympathizers; she convinced him to allow political meetings in their home (the Querétaro Conspiracy). Attendees included Captains Aldama and Allende (sympathizer priest Miguel Hidalgo in nearby Dolores was later informed).
A revolution was planned for December, but early morning September 16th, the Gachupín authorities discovered the conspiracy and ordered the magistrate to apprehend the rebel leaders. He locked up Josefa in her room to keep her from informing anyone; she found a way to get word out, and the leaders fled. Hidalgo, enraged at the discovery, took matters into his hands. History says he freed local prisoners, imprisoned the Gachupines, rang the church bells and called his underprivileged parishioners to arms:
“Viva Fernando Séptimo! Muera el mal gobierno! Mueran los Gachupines!” (Long live Fernando VII, death to bad government, death to the Gachupines!)
Truthfully, what the ‘Grito’ included is disputed; the above is the most consistent of the many versions. But no matter what- it was pretty radical- coming from a priest of Spanish blood!
The first Mexican Constitution was signed on October 22nd, 1814. The war raged until September 27, 1821. Independence was finally won.
The next 80 years were anything but dull on the Mexican calendar. It began with an emperor ( Agustín de Iturbide), who ruled for less than a year. A presidency was finally agreed upon, but with supreme Executive Power (1823-1824). Then came the 1st Republic of Mexico (1824-1864), which saw many presidents, including the 1st – Guadalupe Victoria, war of independence hero Vicente Guerrero, and the not-so-well-beloved-in-history General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, aka the Napoleon of the West, who was president of Mexico on 11 non-consecutive terms. He was in charge when the 13-day siege of Texas took place in 1836 (Remember the Alamo!) and Tejas gained independence from Mexico, as well as during The Mexican-American War (1846-1848), after which Mexico lost to the USA the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
Next came hero Benito Juarez (the Mexican Abraham Lincoln) with the struggle for liberal reform and abolishment of slavery – the Reform War (1858-1867), followed by the French Intervention and the Second Mexican Empire (1861-1867), in which Napoleon sent his cousin Maximillian and Carlota to rule his new Mexican Empire from Chapultapec Park in Mexico City. The Battle of Pueblo took place during this time, on Cinco de Mayo, 1862. Maximillian was captured by Juarez’ troops in 1867, the Republic was restored and Juarez took power once more. The Republic was restored, but along came dictator Porfirio Díaz, and an era known as the Porfiriato (1876-1911). Health services and education improved greatly; the railway and telegraph were brought in across the country. Foreign investment and increased taxes helped bring industrialization to Mexico, but the wealth did not trickle down to the masses. The rich got richer; the rest wanted a revolution…