Food and drink

Celebrating Mexican Independence Day

16 September, 2015

It’s Mexican Independence Day today, and like many people here, I am nursing a bit of a hangover. I’d like to think of it as a step towards assimilating into local culture, but I’ll have to do it quietly because… Mezcal.

Views over Guanajuato

Confusingly enough, Independence Day doesn’t actually fall on the day Mexico gained independence from the Spanish – 27th September 1821 –  but rather on the day, 11 years earlier, when the revolution began.

And even though Independence Day is officially 16th September, the real celebrations start on the 15th to mark the exact time when revolutionary hero and priest, Miguel Hidalgo, saw a small window of opportunity and frantically rang a church bell to gather the people and galvanise them into rising up against the Spaniards.

As such, crowds traditionally gather at 11pm on the 15th to witness a patriotic cry called El Grito de Dolores, which is followed by a peal of bells and a big ol’ party that lasts until dawn.

It’s not every day you get to be in a country celebrating its independence, so our big plan was to start the night off at a party held by my Spanish school, and then head into town well before 11pm to take part in the main celebrations.

What actually happened was this: We went to the party at my Spanish school. There was Mezcal and Tequila. And then somehow it was 4am and we’d missed the lot. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?!1

But even though I didn’t get to hear the cries of El Grito, or watch El Presidente proudly waving the national flag on TV, I think I got a pretty good idea of what it is to celebrate Independence Day in Mexico:

Pozole by Eric Molena

It’s traditional to eat pozole on the 15th, so we all sat down at a huge communal table to eat bowls of spicy hominy soup made by my Spanish teachers. It was delicious and hearty, and the link between food and friendship reminded me of the abuelitos, all the way back in Oaxaca.

We spent hours talking and laughing about life and cultural differences. It was the absolute best way to pick up phrases and hear real Spanish conversation, and it wasn’t long before we were all chatting away in a natural flow of comfortable Spanglish that bridged the gap between languages.

Importantly, I learned how to say ‘I’m drunk’ in Mexican slang (there are hundreds of ways, but I think my two favourites are ‘Estoy hasta la madre’2 and ’Estoy chilaquile’3) and we got the lowdown on some pretty colourful insults.

Independence Day wig

We downed shots while listening to Mexican music, and a couple of students who were most definitely ‘hasta la madre’ danced in the classrooms.

And what stuck with me most of all was the recreation of El Grito I heard as I passed a school assembly hall earlier in the morning. One older boy was shouting out ¡Viva México! and the whole school roared back their response:

[Child] ¡Viva México!

[School] ¡Viva!

[Child] ¡Viva México!

[School] ¡Viva!

[Child] ¡Viva México!

[School] ¡Viva!

As we made our way home through the crowded streets at 4am, a drunk guy stumbled towards us looking very much the worst for wear. I wasn’t sure if he was aggressive, so I did the first thing that came into my head and shouted: “¡Viva México!”

In response, he gave us a wide beam, leaned back and shouted loudly: “¡Viva México, cabrones!”4

Last night might not have gone to plan, but my Spanish school ended up giving me an unintentional lesson that’s helped to open up Mexico that little bit more for me.

¡Viva Mexico, cabrones!

  1. See: Mezcal and Tequila
  2. I’m up to my mother
  3. Chilaquiles is a breakfast dish made up of crispy fried triangles of tortilla and a red or green sauce, so it’s basically saying “I’m chilaquiled”*shrugs*
  4. It means “Long live Mexico, motherf*ckers!” but the profanity is aimed at the Spanish

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