11 May 2012

A Touch More History

When I say “hot,” I do not mean Las Vegas hot. (The weather station here is at 6,237 feet above sea level.) Rather, the highs in the afternoon are only in the nineties. There is no air conditioning anywhere here except in the ritziest hotels. Nor would I wish air conditioning. Out of the sun it is quite comfortable in humidity that runs only ten or twelve percent. Since I am staying out of the sun, we shall continue with a bit more of the story of Father Hidalgo and General Allende and the war for independence from Spain, a story that I began in the last installment and that all started in the area where I live.

The statue of Father Hidalgo carrying the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the virgin of color, in the main plaza at Dolores Hidalgo, 15 November 2009. 
(We are big on statuary here.)

The war for independence from Spain that Father Hidalgo launched in 1810 was a decentralized affair, flaring up here and there, most often fought by Indians and mixed blood mestizos led by priests. Four hundred priests became involved in leading the insurrection in different areas over the ten-year history of the struggle, some of them of pure white blood and some mestizo, that is, of mixed white and Indian blood. One cannot discuss the war without discussing race.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere.

Some photos of the interior of Father Hidalgo's church 
in Dolores Hidalgo, 15 November 2009.

When Father Hidalgo was plotting his insurrection in 1810, one of his co-conspirators was Ignacio Allende of this city then known as San Miguel Grande and now known as San Miguel de Allende, a day's ride by horse from Dolores, Hidalgo's home city. (Forty minutes by pickup truck today.) Allende was also a creole, that is, a man of pure Spanish blood born in the New World. It is fair to say that all creoles in New Spain wanted independence from Spain. Only those of pure white blood born in Spain could hold positions of power in New Spain. Creoles, who were of pure white blood but born in the New World, were shut out of positions of political power.

Many creoles, however, did have large land holdings inherited from ancestors who had been born in Spain. Also, creoles could become priests. Father Hidalgo was a priest who was also a member of a family that owned a large hacienda, a large piece of land.

The statue of General Ignacio Allende in the Plaza Civica here in San Miguel de Allende, 
6 June 2009.

However, as Father Hidalgo's insurrection developed with Generall Allende his second in command, the slaughter of whites by the Indian horde that followed his little creole army spooked other creoles. Few joined him because they saw it as the beginning of a race war in which the Indians would massacre all whites without making any fine distinctions as to where those whites had been born. That whole idea understandably had little appeal to them. This contributed to Hidalgo's downfall. It is a good question whether Allende would have been with him had Allende known what he was getting into in the beginning. (That is my own speculation.) Moreover, after Hidalgo spared Mexico City and went instead to Guadalajara, his Indian followers slowly began to melt away.

Still, racial hatred continued to fuel the war for independence. It is understandable. There are very few black people in Mexico today. The reason is that the Spanish enslaved the Indians here and did not need black slaves. The only reason black slaves were imported into the island portions of New Spain was that the Spanish killed off all the Indians there.

Let us take the mining industry for example. This region, my state of Guanajuato, was the leading exporter of silver in the world at the beginning of the 1800's. The treatment of the Indians by the Spanish in the mining industry over the course of the previous 300 years was at times horrific. In extreme cases Indians were lowered down the shafts of mines and left down there. If they sent up ore, then food was sent down to them. If they sent up no ore--or insufficient ore--no food was sent down. Many of those Indians never saw the light of day again in their short lives.

Which brings me to one particular Indian miner from Guanajuato City, 50 minutes by pickup truck from here. His nickname was El Pipila. El Pipila was a miner of tremendous strength. He joined Father Hidalgo at Guanajuato when the Spanish of that city were holed up in the Alhóndiga, the grainery, and under seige by Father Hidalgo's forces. It was El Pipila who single-handedly breached the huge, wooden eastern doors to the grainery thus allowing the rest of Father Hidalgo's Indians to enter and massacre the Spanish inside, in most cases beating them to death.

El Pipila heaved a large stone slab up onto his back. As he moved to the doors leaning over under this stone slab, it protected him from the stones and bullets that the Spanish inside the grainery rained down on him. He was therefore able to reach the doors, douse them in petroleum, and set them afire.

Traffic circle, Salida de Celaya and the Libramiento,
11 May 2012.

For the longest time I assumed that this statue out in the traffic circle on the edge of town was simply a generic memorial to the oppressed Indians. One could, after all, get killed trying to walk out there through the traffic to read the inscription on the statue. Recently, I finally learned that this is a statue of El Pipila with his stone slab on his back making his way to the east doors of the Alhóndiga.


By the way, Spain's holdings in the new world were governed in the form of two different Viceroyalties. I have been speaking of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was comprised of what are today the countries of Central America, Mexico, the island nations of the Spanish West Indies including Cuba, the Philippines and nearby islands, and the entire southwestern United States. The Viceroy sat in the capitol of all of this, Mexico City.

There was a second Viceroyalty in South America, the Viceroyalty of Peru. I know only a little about that and am not really interested right now.

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