Viva Mexico!

Tomorrow is the National Day of the Estados Unidos Mexicanos. In English, the United Mexican States. That is the country’s official name for it is a federation of 32 states. In the Philippine context, their states are like our provinces.

Mexico’s Independence Day is unique, it is a nocturnal commemoration. In Mexico City, people converge at the zocalo, the main plaza in the centro historico, during the wee hours when Sept. 15 becomes 16. From the main balcony of the Palacio Nacional, the sitting president re-enacts the “Grito de Dolores” which was the battle cry of Fr. Miguel Hidalgo, a secular parish priest (in the spirit of our GOMBURZA) known as the Father of Mexican Independence. He demanded the end of Spanish rule, racial equality and clamored for the distribution of land. Like the Cry of Balintawak, the Grito signaled the beginning of what Mexicans call their anti-colonial war against Spain.

When you say Mexican Revolution, that means something else to Mexicans; it is a social revolution which pundits call civil war, an experience practically unknown to us Filipinos. Not all the demands of Fr. Hidalgo were fulfilled, most especially land distribution so after decades, Mexico fell under the dictatorial rule of General Porfirio Diaz who as a young colonel defended Mexico against the French. The few streets in his honor are called Coronel Porfirio Diaz, never Presidente because he became an oppressive dictator.

Significantly, this year, Mexico’s National Day has a theme which melds the anti-colonial and revolutionary: “ 2023, Año de Pancho Villa, El Revolucionario del Pueblo.” Jose Doroteo Arango better known as Pancho Villa was often called a bandit by the hacienderos, but to the poor and oppressed loved him. He was among the revolutionary generals that ousted the dictator Porfirio Diaz. Mexicans of different social classes had to wage a revolution against each other from 1910 to 1917 to rearrange the internal balance of power of social classes and institutions. The separation of Church and State, religious freedom and no re-election are inviolable legacies of their social revolution. Centuries-old Catholic churches and convents were taken over by the government and converted into museums, schools, libraries and heritage destinations.

During my first year in Mexico, the sister of a former classmate called me long distance from Canada. Cell phones had not been invented. She wanted to enroll her daughters in a Catholic school in Mexico so they could receive religious education similar to what we had in Maryknoll College. She obviously had no inkling of Mexican history. She was married to a former priest and both were quite willing to live apart, he in Canada and she in Mexico, so their girls could get proper Catholic education. Mexico was certainly not the place to look for an exclusive school for girls run by nuns, although such institutions did exist, their presence was merely “tolerated.” Neither nuns or priests were allowed to wear their habits and religious emblems in public. They had no voice and probably no vote. Only bishops who espoused the “theology of liberation” could be outspoken. Needless to say, my friend was disheartened, but I was secretly glad that her family remained intact in Canada where she eventually found a school to her liking.

That was in 1976, when I had just arrived. The landscape had become totally different since 2000, the year the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) wrestled the presidency from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) which was in power for 75 years. Mexico began to look like the Philippines. Religious cults mushroomed and began to proselytize on television and radio. Religious advertisements were all over the main thoroughfares as Catholic laity and clergy made their voices heard like never before, commenting on issues related to politics, education, the national economy and the electoral system. Sectarian events had full coverage by both national and private tri-media. A movie  (The Sins of Fr. Amaro) about an erring clergyman provoked a tempest in movie theaters and the press.

The Bishops’ Conference of Mexico was emboldened, like its Philippine counterpart. Political and business leaders are criticized for lack of ethics and for committing unspeakable forms of corruption at all levels of national life. The bishops affirm that the educational system no longer responds to the need for social transformation and economic development.

When Mayor Alfredo S. Lim was the chief executive of Manila, Mexican Independence Day was celebrated with pomp and circumstance not in the wee hours but early in the morning. We all assembled at the monument of Fr. Miguel Hidalgo located in a wooded area outside the walls of Intramuros. The Manila Band played patriotic songs, the choir of Lakandula High School sang Mexican and Filipino melodies. The diplomatic corps headed by the Ambassador of Mexico would come in full force. The mayor and Mexican ambassador offered flowers after which the latter reminded one and all of the inextricable cultural, historical and emotional ties between our two countries. We are more Mexican than we think and there are at least a million Mexicans in Acapulco with Filipino DNA. Muchas felicidades a Mexico, nuestra querida hermana.