(WHTM) — “Wait a minute, I thought that was Cinco de Mayo!

No, that came later.

By 1810, Spain had ruled Mexico and its other Central American territories (lumped together as New Spain) since 1521, and it ruled with an iron fist. Wars with Native Americans erupted frequently and were suppressed brutally. A rigid caste system developed. Only Spaniards born in Spain could hold high-level government posts.

Creoles (Spaniards born in Mexico) could attain wealth but had little government influence. Mestizos, people with both Spanish and Native American ancestry, were deemed racially inferior by Spaniards and Creoles, which meant Native Americans were at the bottom of the heap. African slaves got lumped in with the Native Americans.

By the early 1800s, displeasure with Spanish rule was near the boiling point just as the Spanish Empire was starting to fall apart. In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte forced the abdication of the Spanish King and replaced him with his brother Joseph Bonaparte. This did not sit well with the Spanish in Spain, and the fight over who was really in charge weakened Spain’s grip on its territories.

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On September 16, 1810, Father Don Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor, a Roman Catholic Priest in the village of Dolores, rang his church bell, assembled the inhabitants of the village, and issued the Grito de Delores, the Cry of Delores, a call to rise up and fight for independence.

Ironically, no one really knows what Miguel Hidalgo, as he is popularly known, actually said; he never wrote it down, and nobody at the time was taking notes. Well, whatever he said, it worked. Within a few days, a ragtag army sprang into being, and the Mexican War for Independence was underway. The movement gathered support from all parts of society, from the Native Americans to the Mestizos, to the Creoles, and even some of the Spanish.

More importantly, they put aside their differences and fought together. The war would last for eleven years; and in the end, Spanish rule disintegrated, and on August 24, 1821, the Treaty of Córdoba was signed. Spain had recognized the independence of Mexico.

Miguel Hidalgo did not live to see this victory; in fact, he didn’t survive the first year of the war. He was captured, and executed on July 30, 1811. But to this day he is remembered in Mexico as the Father of Mexican Independence, and it is September 16, not August 24, that is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day.

The celebrations actually begin on September 15, with a ceremony in Mexico City. Crowds gather in the Zocalo, the main square in the city, which dates back to the Aztecs. At around 11:00 p.m., the President of Mexico appears on the balcony of the National Palace, rings the bell that Hidalgo rang in 1810, and recites what’s become known as the Grito Mexicano:

¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
¡Viva Hidalgo!
¡Viva Morelos!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
¡Viva Allende!
¡Viva Aldama y Matamoros!
¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!
¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!

Long live the heroes who gave us our homeland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Morelos!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
Long live Allende!
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live the nation’s independence!
Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico! Long Live Mexico!

The president rings the bell again, waves the Mexican flag, a band plays the Mexican National Anthem, and a massive fireworks display concludes the ceremony. September 16th is marked by parades, concerts, dancing, feasting, and general celebration.

Oh, as for what Cinco de Mayo is actually about, check this link.