An Old American Tradition: Celebrating Mexican Independence Day

New America Media, New Feature, David E. Hayes-Bautista Posted: Sep 16, 2009

Celebrating Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16 is an old American tradition, one that stretches back nearly two centuries, including during the American Civil War. During that terrible period, two sister republics--Mexico and the United States--were fighting for their very survival. The idea of a democratic government, one that derived its legitimacy from the will of the people, was under fire. Crowned heads, claiming legitimacy from divinity rather than the ballot box, ruled most of the world.

By 1864, the U.S. Civil War had raged for nearly four years, and as Lincoln’s re-election approached, northerners who sympathized with the south (called "copperheads") were campaigning for former Union Gen. George McClellan on a “peace platform.” Their slogan was, “Let the South go. Let them keep their slaves. Freedom and democracy are not worth fighting for. The price is too high.”

In those dark days, who would stand up for freedom and democracy in America? Latinos, celebrating Mexican Independence Day in California!

The events were reported in La Voz de Méjico, a local newspaper of the day. At 9 a.m. on Sept. 16, 1864, the Latino community in the Gold Country town of Marysville, organized by Juan N. Leal, the president of the Marysville Junta Patriótica Mejicana, gathered at the Mexican flag waving high atop the flagpole at the corner of Third and A streets. Astride their mounts, the “Lanceros Mejicanos” (Mexican Lancers), one of many Spanish-speaking military companies in California during the Civil War, sat upright in their saddles, resplendent in their elegant uniforms, awaiting the day’s celebration of freedom and democracy. The faint sounds of marching music floated through the air, grew louder, then finally the Marysville Band came marching into sight. Behind it were two more units of the California State Militia, all marching behind the stars and the stripes. Stiffening in their saddles, the Spanish-speaking lanceros saluted the English-speaking units, who returned the honors. Gunfire boomed, and the celebration was on.

Leading the procession of carriages and wagons filled with “señoras y caballeros” was a special one, carrying four women speakers, all Latinas. Candelaria García held a Mexican flag, Abelina Campos waved the Chilean flag, Maria García lofted the Peruvian flag and Carmen Wilson grasped the flag of the United States. The parade halted in front of the Marysville city hall.

With the flags of four American republics--Mexico, Peru, Chile and the United States--waving above, Carmen Wilson stepped forward and began her speech, on the topic of the American Civil War, “nuestra guerra civil” (our civil war). Far away in Georgia, Union troops had just battled their way into Atlanta, past the Confederate units that supported slavery. Wilson urged her listeners to support freedom and democracy by supporting the Union. Joining her on the stand, Candelaria García reminded the audience of the other great battle also raging, in Mexico, where French invaders were trying to kill democracy by placing the Emperor Maximilian I on an artificial throne. The theme of the day was clearly freedom and democracy.

The celebration included a lengthy afternoon picnic lunch, then another round of speakers in the evening.

Soured by this outpouring of support for Lincoln and the Union, some disgruntled copperheads hatched a plan to ruin the evening’s event. As the program began, an English-speaking stranger, G.P. Granger, asked Leal if he could address the crowd. Not suspecting anything, Leal graciously allowed him to take the stand. Speaking in “español quebrantado” (literally, broken Spanish) Granger at first complimented the crowd for supporting Juarez in his fight for freedom and democracy. Then, after denouncing Maximilian for attempting to impose a crown on the Mexican democracy, his confederate sympathies emerged: Granger claimed that Lincoln was as bad as Maximilian and wanted to make slaves out of the Southerners. He then began haranguing the crowd to vote for McClellan and his “peace platform.”

This affront to their defense of freedom and democracy was more than many Latinos and English-speaking Union supporters could bear. Some wanted to physically eject the interloper, who had taken brazen advantage of Mexican Independence Day to spout copperhead propaganda. Cooler heads prevailed, and an alternative plan quickly developed. They allowed Granger to continue his Confederate harangue, but as soon as he was finished, Leal leaped to his feet and led the crowd in cheers that rang through the night:

“Vivan los Estados Unidos del Norte:”(Hurray for the United States of the North)

“Viva el Presidente Lincoln”

The cheers rang loud and clear. Then they shouted:

“Viva Juarez”

“Viva Mexico”

In the face of such an overwhelming show of patriotic support for Lincoln and the Union, the copperhead Granger put his tail between his legs and slinked away.

And that is why Mexican Independence Day should be considered a real American tradition.

David E. Hayes-Bautista, PhD, is professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. His most recent book is “La Nueva California: Latinos in the Golden State,” (University of California Press, 2004).


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User Comments


TexMex on Sep 16, 2009 at 21:36:25 said:

Indians + Europeans + Africans = AMERICA
517 Years in the making. It's in the blood! MESTIZO AMERICA

Can you imagine what it was like during the Early California days of the Beautiful Ranchos. All these wonderful people working together to make California one of the most desirable places on earth and along the way the rest of the United States joined us. So let us celebrate California along with the Southwest United States with Mexico their independence day.

Unlike republicans (98% white) that constantly trash California, Texas etc and therefore trash the United States, Latinos would never consider trashing our Great Nation.


Wendy on Sep 16, 2009 at 13:57:18 said:

Happy Mexican Independence Day!!!


Doug R. on Sep 16, 2009 at 13:42:51 said:

N. Martinez - Are you familiar with "E pluribus unum" which is latin means "out of many ONE"? Its the USAs motto. It means out of many groups and nationalities that come to the USA they become a part of the USA.

The USA however comes FIRST not second. Thats the issue. Let me ask a question. Is it Mexico providing for these people in the USA? No its the USA. You talk about respect?????????? Its not Mexico providing for these people its the USA! These people are not trying to gain citizenship to Mexico they are trying to be citizens of the USA! They are not in Mexico they are in the USA and you want to talk about respect?

If they have so much pride in Mexico they should go back to it--what are they doing here in the USA a different country anyways?

CITIZENSHIP OATH OF THE USA

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Notice the first sentence "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen"

See this is what you do not seem to get. The USA is a country not a boarding house. If these people can not put our country FIRST above the ones they fled they should get out of the USA and not bother comming.


N. Martinez on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:35:15 said:

Hey, i think that is very rude! You Doug!

I think you should be more respectful towards mexicans because they are not doing anything bad to you.

these people come for a reson to our country!
& i belive all of us are immigrants in some way (unless you are native american)
I see nothing wron in showing off another flag other than the united states one,this country was made up of several different nations and thats what makes our country...DIFFERENT NATIONS, FLAGS, & NATIONALITIES

So i belive that there are different people in our counrty that celebrate their countries independence other than mexicans.

The United States was made up of very diffrent sorts of people and they have the right to raise their flags!!!


N. Martinez on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:21:46 said:

Hey, i think that is very rude! You Doug!

I think you should be more respectful towards mexicans because they are not doing anything bad to you.

these people come for a reson to our country!
& i belive all of us are immigrants in some way (unless you are native american)
I see nothing wron in showing off another flag other than the united states one,this country was made up of several different nations and thats what makes our country...DIFFERENT NATIONS, FLAGS, & NATIONALITIES

So i belive that there are different people in our counrty that celebrate their countries independence other than mexicans.

The United States was made up of very diffrent sorts of people and they have the right to raise their flags!!!


N. Martinez on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:16:24 said:

Hey, i think that is very rude! You Doug!

I think you should be more respectful towards mexicans because they are not doing anything bad to you.

these people come for a reson to our country!
& i belive all of us are immigrants in some way (unless you are native american)
I see nothing wron in showing off another flag other than the united states one,this country was made up of several different nations and thats what makes our country...DIFFERENT NATIONS, FLAGS, & NATIONALITIES

So i belive that there are different people in our counrty that celebrate their countries independence other than mexicans.

The United States was made up of very diffrent sorts of people and they have the right to raise their flags!!!


vanessa v. =) on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:08:19 said:

jake is such a weirdo. =]


vanessa v. =) on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:07:01 said:

jake is such a weirdo. =]


tania a. :) on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:06:40 said:

wow jake ur dumb! lol vanessa agrees!!


vanessa v. =) on Sep 16, 2009 at 10:58:33 said:

jake is such a weirdo. =]


Doug R. on Sep 16, 2009 at 10:29:04 said:

j guerra- Are you familiar with the word mestizo? Most Mexicans are also part Spanish (70%). Also after the war of 1846-1848 with Mexico the USA gave the very FEW Mexicans that were living in the land that was added onto the USA (the southwest) a option. They could become citizens of the USA or go to Mexico. MOST became US citizens.

95% of the mexicans here and their ancestors were not living in the what today is the Southwestern USA. They came in much much later so your "they are native to this land" argument is ignorance. Let's also keep in mind that Spain added that land to Mexico before the USA won it. And who did they take it from? Natives. Native whom are of no relationship to the common Mexican.


Doug R. on Sep 16, 2009 at 10:21:19 said:

First of all Mexico and the USA are TWO seperate countries. I think what some have a issue with is people treating the USA as a motel. If you love your home country you fled so much--go back to it. The USA is a country not a boarding house. We have a flag (the red white and blue). Some of you take diversity to a whole new level that is beyond good for a nation.

When we have people who are more loyal to another country here in the USA and they wish to gain citizenship for just what the USA can offer them--its a problem.


Bart on Sep 16, 2009 at 06:14:54 said:

Wth is your problem


jake stano on Sep 16, 2009 at 06:12:14 said:

i agree with steve and obama


Obama on Sep 16, 2009 at 06:11:12 said:

I agree with Steve, I am working on passing a law to get them all out of this country. We need more black people.


j guerra on Sep 16, 2009 at 06:00:47 said:

Steve: I take it u r white.... Well, we both kno this for sure. Your grandparents or their parents came here from across the globe on a boat. The Mexican people are native of the Americas. So who are the real "foriegners" ? Mexican Independence Day is a real AMERICAN holiday.


Daniel on Sep 16, 2009 at 05:49:18 said:

Steve, if you are so concerned about people waving the flag of another country in the U.S. which you consider "disrespectful", then why do they still wave the confederate flag in certain southern states, and have it proudly displayed in some homes. That flag is a symbol of disrespect to millions of people in the U.S. who view it as a link to slavery and the old south. Many of the Hispanics who wave the flags of their heritage have also died in battle for the U.S. defending this country.


Susan on Sep 16, 2009 at 05:48:57 said:

I admire other cultures in how they still celebrate things from their original countries. My heritage is German but I know nothing of their culture, as I was born and raised her in the great US of A. Iwould still like to know more about the traditions of my fore fathers.


Wade Keezer on Sep 16, 2009 at 05:28:20 said:

Mexican people have indigenous ties to this land. As an Ojibwe, I am more offended by the American flag being waved around Turtle Island. Broken treaties and lies are what the American flag represents to the original people. Natives taught the Europeans how to live in this land and then they tried to kill us off. Ungrateful and disrespectful in our eyes.


Sarah on Sep 16, 2009 at 04:34:11 said:

Steve: The United States is made up of people from MANY lands. People have always come here to escape their own countries. It will always be that way. We live in an awesome country, and shame on you for not realizing that is the reason these "foreigners" come here. Realize that at some point in time, we were all the "foreigners" in this country and were doing the same thing that the Mexicans and other hispanics are doing today. Mexico is their heritage, and waving a Mexican flag and celebrating their independence day in the US is in no way disrespectful to our country. They are bigger people than you to still be proud of their native land even through all of the problems it has.


Mary on Sep 16, 2009 at 04:14:23 said:

Well Steve, many different races celebrate their heritage holidays in this country all the time. These celebrations are neither disrespectful or a slap to being an American. The Chinese celebrate their New Year's, The Ethopian's just celebrated their own New Year's just last week. I have a neighbor who's Canadian and they fly their flag on their holidays. I hope your not singling out just one group because they shows a slight tinge of racism. The beauty of American is that it is a melting pot and you have the freedom of speech and religion. I guess the Irish turning the rivers green and celebrating Saint Patrick's day is okay to you?


Steve on Sep 16, 2009 at 02:02:57 said:

Mexican independence is not an American tradition, and it should not be celebrated as such. Actually it is disrespectful. How dare anyone wave a foreign flag on this land. If Mexicans are so proud of their native land, Mexico, then stand up to the Mexican government, and demand an end to corruption and poverty? Then celebrate Mexican independence in that country.

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