Close your eyes and imagine that you are hiking through a dense jungle in Mexico. The leaves around you are thick and wet. You use a sword to chop your way ahead. Sometimes you stumble and fall on roots or get stuck in vines that block your path. The weather is hot and humid. Your body is covered in sweat. You are thirsty and your muscles are tired and ache, but you keep moving. You keep pressing on. A long line of fellow Mexicans are hiking with you, moving quietly towards your goal. You and your fellow soldiers are determined to defeat the Spanish who rule your country. You want them to leave so you can rule it yourselves. Leading your group is a priest who has great ideas of how Mexico can be independent, can become its own country, free from Spanish rule. You are following one of the most famous Mexican men in history: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, also known as the “Father of Mexico.”
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Mexican Catholic priest who called for a revolution, or rebellion, against the Spanish government in 1810. Hidalgo, as he is commonly known, is thought of as the “Father of Mexican Independence” due to his role in helping the mexican people fight against Spanish rulers.
In 1753 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was born near Guanajuato, Mexico. At that time, the name of the country was not Mexico, but rather it was called “New Spain” because Europeans from Spain had settled in the area and claimed it as their own. But most of the people living in Mexico weren’t from Spain, they and their ancestors had lived there long before the Spanish arrived and conquered their lands.
Miguel was the second son of Cristobal Hidalgo y Costilla and Ana Maria Gallaga Mandarte y Villasenor. Miguel’s dad was an administrator, or government worker of the hacienda, or town.
When Miguel was growing up, his family was fairly rich, so he had a good, easy life. He was considered to be a “creole” person, which means his ancestors were Spanish. He had loving parents and had fun with his older brother Jose Joaquin.
When Miguel was 12, his father sent him and his brother Jose Joaquin to the city of (Vaya-dolid) Valladolid to go to school. Miguel studied religion and after completing a lot of courses on various religious topics, or courses about God and the meaning of life, he became a Catholic priest in 1778.
After he was a priest, Miguel Hidalgo became known as Father Hidalgo. He returned to his hometown university to teach philosophy, which means the study of how humans think, and theology, which means the study of God.
Now that Miguel was an adult and a priest, he was able to travel and meet people. He loved to learn and was particularly interested in European ways and thinking. This was not the normal path for a Mexican Catholic priest in the 18th century! Most priests stayed in their church area and spent their days praying. But Miguel was too curious about the world and too social to stay in one place and not ask questions and learn new things. This is the best way to learn new things, be curious and ask questions!
Even thought he was different from most priests at the time, Miguel became the rector, or leader, of the church of San Nicolas in 1790. Unfortunately though, the other priests in the area did not like the way he behaved, so he was only in the role as rector for two years.
Father Hidalgo moved on to lead the churches in the towns of Colima and then San Felipe Torres Mochas and later Dolores. Besides studying, he also grew grape vines and olive trees in the church gardens. He opened a pottery-making studio, or art area, and taught himself to make pots. He had many hobbies to keep his life interesting.
Father Hidalgo was very giving and showed compassion for poor people in the towns where he lived. Compassion means concern for someone’s suffering. Father Hidalgo put on classes to teach poor people skills that they could use to make money, like carpentry, or woodworking, and blacksmithing, which means to make things out of iron or metal.
Because of his interest in learning and philosophy, Father Hidalgo became very involved with the small group of educated people that lived in his town. These educated people had gone to university and learned about politics and government and they weren’t happy with the way that Spain was controlling their country of New Spain. Remember at this time Spain controlled Mexico and didn’t let them vote or make their own decisions.
In 1808, a new Spanish leader named Joseph was put in charge of the Spanish territories, including New Spain, where Father Hidalgo lived. The people of New Spain did not like their new rulers, as they were mean and greedy. He and his friends planned to remove the Spanish rulers from being in charge and get their old king, the King of Spain, released and put back in place as their leader.
The Spanish rulers learned that there was a secret plot to take over, so Father Hidalgo and his friends had to speed up their plans. In Dolores, Father Hidalgo climbed to the top of the church where he lived and with all of his might rang the church bell. This was the signal that their fight against their Spanish rulers had begun. Then, he went outside the church and waved a banner of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. This was September 16, 1810 and became a famous event called the Grito de Dolores or “Cry of Dolores”. This was the beginning of the Mexican people’s fight for freedom.
Father Hidalgo’s second in command was a military captain named Ignacio Allende. Together Father Hidalgo and Captain Allende led a group of creole and first nations men into towns and cities near where they lived. They gathered more men in the towns and cities and slowly the size of their group grew. With each town they moved through, the group took control of the Spanish government and replaced it with their own.
Unfortunately as the group grew bigger, so did it’s problems. Father Hidalgo’s goal was to take power back from the Spanish. But the group of men that became his followers grew more and more violent. The Catholic Church was not happy about what they saw happening. They removed Father Hidalgo from his role as priest and member of the Church.
Miguel was no longer called “Father Hidalgo” anymore, but that didn’t stop him from his mission of removing the Spanish from power in his country. Miguel and his followers continued to move through more cities until they finally arrived at Mexico City, the biggest city in Mexico.
There, the Spanish were ready with their army. Gunshots rang out, smoke filled the air, a battle broke out between the Spanish army and Miguel’s army. Soon Miguel and his army had to retreat or move back to safety, in a city called Guadalajara. There, Miguel formed a new small government that declared that they were in charge. One of the first things his government did was declare an end to slavery and promise to return lands to the Indigenous people. These were very modern ideas for the time.
In Guadalajara, Miguel also started a newspaper called El Despertador Americano, which means “The American Alarm Clock.” The newspaper published stories and information about the revolution. Revolution means a forced overthrow of the government. They were determined to become free from Spanish rule.
In January 1811, Miguel and his men gathered at Calderon Bridge outside of the city of Guadelajara to meet a small Spanish army for a battle. The Spanish army was well trained and well armed. Weapons were fired. The Spanish had a better army and Miguel and his soldiers had to run away. After this loss, Miguel’s friend, Captain Allende, became the new leader of the group of rebel fighters.
But some of the survivors of the battle followed Miguel north to join a group that was setting up in what is now the American city of San Antonio. Along the way they were captured by the Spanish army near a town called Coahuila. The group members were put on trial and were found guilty of fighting against the ruling Spanish.
Miguel and his fellow soldiers had fought bravely but did not survive to continue fighting with their fellow countrymen. But the revolution that he started continued even after he was gone. In 1821, Mexico eventually won the war against Spain and became independent. If you live in the United States, this event was similar to Independence Day when Americans became free from British and the King’s rule.
September 16 is now celebrated as Mexico’s Independence Day, similar to the 4th of July in the United States. This is the day Mexico became its own country. Every year on this date, Mexican people celebrate their heritage and brave people like Miguel Hidalgo who fought for their freedom. Usually the President of Mexico will do the same thing Hidalgo did, go to the church’s bell tower and ring the bell to signal the start of the war of Independence called the “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores.”
After he died, Miguel’s remains were buried in a monument in Mexico City, now called the Angel of Independence monument. This monument celebrates the “Father of Mexican Independence” which is Miguel Hidalgo’s nickname. There is also a state in Mexico named after Miguel, called Hidalgo, and the town that Miguel was originally a priest at is now known as “Dolores Hidalgo.”
We can learn a lot from Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. He was very curious and was always learning. He also had many hobbies to keep life interesting. He was also very brave and risked his life to push out the Spanish rulers who controlled his country. He was organized and a strong leader, and passionate about freedom, and because of this he had many people who followed him into battle and believed in his cause. Because of his bravery and beliefs, Miguel is now remembered as the “Father of Mexican Independence.”
Learning about Miguel is also a great chance to learn more about Mexico, it’s people and its culture. Mexico has a vibrant culture with delicious food, music, dancing, and artwork. Family is very important in a culture where they take care of each other and meet often to eat and enjoy time together. Mexican culture has also become a big part of American culture, seeing that over 36 million people living in the United States are of Mexican ancestry. Be sure to look up some videos about Mexico and Mexican culture. One of our family’s favorite movies is Pixar’s “Coco.” Be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet.
Thanks for listening to this episode about Miguel Hidalgo and be sure to tune in next Monday for a new episode!