Mexican Independence Day celebration returns to Plaza

Denay Griego of Santa Fe performs a Mexican folk dance at the Municipal Recreational Complex on Sept. 15, 2009, during a Mexican Independence Day celebration. The event returns to the Plaza this year. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

The last time city residents celebrated Mexican Independence Day on the Santa Fe Plaza was in 1844, six years before New Mexico became a U.S. territory.

Now, 172 years later, the Plaza will again be filled with mariachi music, Mexican food and patrons doing El Grito, a shout that commemorates the start of the successful Mexican revolution against the Spanish crown in September 1810. El Grito de Independencia, sponsored by the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque, will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and attendees are encouraged to “wear their best red, green and white,” the city says in a news release.

“We’re looking forward to another great event with music and dancing and community on the Plaza,” Mayor Javier Gonzales said in a statement, adding that the event “reiterates the message that all cultures are welcome and celebrated here in Santa Fe.”

Each year in Mexico City, just before midnight Sept. 15, the Mexican president kicks off the Sept. 16 celebration by ringing the bell at the National Palace and then doing what it is called El Grito, a shout commemorating the heroes of the Mexican revolution. He ends the shout with “¡Viva Mexico!

Other Mexican cities hold similar events in their plazas. U.S. cities also have joined the celebration as a way to recognize Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants’ contributions to the United States.

In June, the Santa Fe City Council voted in favor of bringing Mexican Independence Day celebrations back to the Plaza after a request from officials at the Mexican Consulate. In years past, the celebration had been hosted in different parks around Santa Fe and at the Municipal Recreation Complex.

Gonzales said in June that the event is part of an ongoing effort to improve the downtown economy by attracting more residents to the Plaza. It is also an effort to draw more south-side residents to the city’s center, many of whom are Mexican immigrants.

The celebration has deep roots on the Plaza.

Facundo Melgares, the last governor of New Mexico for Spain and the first governor of the territory for Mexico, wrote a report to the newspaper Gaceta Imperial in Mexico City, published in March 1822, detailing Santa Feans’ reaction to the news that they were free from Spanish rule.

Melgares wrote in the report that New Mexicans pledged allegiance to Mexico on Sept. 11, 1821, and held a celebration on the Plaza in January 1822, according to an article on the website of the New Mexico Office of the State Historian.

The following December, city residents had a more “lavish” celebration, according to the article. Festivities included Pueblo Indian dances, food and music. In 1835, the event included a bullfight on the Plaza.

The last known Mexican Independence Day celebration was in 1844, the article says. Four years later, Mexico lost the Mexican-American War and signed on to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which gave up half of Mexico’s territories, including New Mexico, to the United States.

While some critics say celebrating a foreign country’s independence in the United States is insulting, other historians say it is a reminder that many Mexicans are not immigrants but native to America.

“Although some have criticized this as inappropriate in our country, it bears reminding that New Mexico was part of the Mexican Republic for 25 years,” Rob Martinez, assistant state historian, wrote in an article explaining that stand.

“That historical fact,” he wrote, “along with the presence of many Americans of Mexican descent as well as Mexican immigrants in America today, is reason enough to explain the renewed interest in celebrating the 16th of September in the Southwest.”

Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.