Culture

Who Was Father Hidalgo? Everything to Know About the Man Behind ‘El Grito’ and Mexico’s Independence

Mexican Independence Day has always been notable for the Latinx community. This is the time to show our respect and appreciation for the cultural gifts that Mexican culture and history have given to the world.

This year, the celebration of “El Grito,” as it’s also called, has a special meaning to me. I find myself back in my mind, wandering the streets of Chihuahua, on a journey that leads me to a significant piece of Mexican history: the Museo de Sitio Calabozo de Hidalgo or as many know it, Casa Chihuahua. 

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Experiencing my first Grito after visiting where El Padre Hidalgo spent his final days has added depth and perspective to this celebration. As someone not native to Mexico, my visit was a gentle immersion into a profound chapter of Mexico’s narrative.

The father of Mexican independence

September 16, 1810 marked a pivotal moment in Mexican history when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a respected priest, stood up against Spanish dominion, igniting the flame of Mexican Independence.

This act, known as the “Grito de Dolores,” started Mexico’s first war of independence, with Hidalgo heralded as the chief revolutionary.

Walking into Casa Chihuahua, the weight of history surrounded me. Here, in the very bowels of this place, Hidalgo spent his days from April to July 1811.

My footsteps echo as I walk through the long, vaulted tunnel, the walls fortified with quarry stones and the floor laid with smoked black stone. A chilling reminder of Hidalgo’s confinement is present: the original cot, table, candelabrum and crucifix the priest once used.

Despite being among several priests rallying for the independence of American colonies, Hidalgo’s fervent spirit for liberty, coupled with his tragic end, consecrated him as the Father of the Mexican Homeland.


Hidalgo was a priest who was also a general

As I delve deeper, I learn that following Hidalgo’s historic cry for independence, he was declared the “Generalissimo of the Americas” on October 22, 1810. But fate, as they say, is unpredictable. By early 1811, following a series of insurgent defeats, Hidalgo was pursued and eventually captured.

In Casa Chihuahua, he faced trial and eventual execution. It was both moving and eerie to stand there, looking at where he slept, ate, wrote and prayed, knowing that what awaited him outside his cell was death.

As a non-Mexican, the personal stories — those little moments — hit me the hardest. Inside his prison, Hidalgo developed bonds with his jailers, Melchor Guaspe and Miguel Ortega. Their kindness and respect for him are clear. Hidalgo also left behind verses written with charcoal on the prison walls as a token of gratitude.

The birth of a hero and the most meaningful Grito

On July 30, 1811, the tragic end came for Hidalgo. Before his execution, in a ceremony meant to strip him of his priestly stature, he stood his ground. He was to be executed facing away, labeled as a traitor. But Hidalgo’s dignity prevailed, leading to his execution facing forward. His courage in his last moments was a testament to his unwavering spirit.

What strikes me most, however, isn’t just his tragic end but the aftereffects of his sacrifice. Even in death, Hidalgo sparked a movement. Another valiant priest, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, took up his cause.

While I may be an outsider, my time at the Museo de Sitio Calabozo de Hidalgo gave me a profound appreciation for the sacrifices of heroes like Hidalgo. The struggle for freedom is universal, and in the heart of Chihuahua, I’ve been reminded of the enduring spirit of liberty and the price many pay for it.

This Mexican Independence Day, while the streets are alight with celebration, let’s take a moment to remember the stories of resilience, sacrifice, and hope that have shaped this great nation.

Hidalgo is not just a historical figure; he embodies the human spirit’s fight for freedom. And as I leave the Museo, I feel a deeper connection to the rich tapestry of Mexico’s history. ¡Viva México!

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