Dia de la Raza

October 12.

On this day in 1492 two worlds collided.

Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos coined the term La Raza Cósmica, the Cosmic Race (for lack of a better word), to describe the people of Latin America, and what he considered the future of the human race. Vasconcelos theorized that:

“the different races of the world tend to mix ever more, until forming a new human type, composed of the selection of each of the existent peoples…”

…and that the Americans were a mixture of all races: the Asiatic tribes who crossed over the Bering Strait, and the Iberian colonizers and African slaves who crossed via the Atlantic. Vasconcelos’s theories were not without bias: “A religion like Christianity advanced the American indians, in a few centuries, from cannibalism to a relative civilization.” But you will hear echoes of Vasconcelos’s optimism on Dia de la Raza.

Raza means “race”, but not entirely in the English sense of the word. In the context of the holiday, raza refers to the birth of a new breed of humanity, the synthesis of cultures, races, religions, and ideologies that make up Hispanic America today.

Thus, Dia de la Raza, takes this day of tragedy and turns it into a celebration of life across Latin America.

Dia de la Raza & Columbus Day – Contradicting Cultures

Saint Anthony’s Day

June 13

Saint Anthony of Padua

Cities and countries around the world celebrate St. Anthony’s Day, from Lisbon, Portugal to Wilmington, Delaware, not to mention cities in Brazil, Mexico, Italy, and even India!

The Brazilians get the jump on the celebrations by commemorating June 12, the day before his feast, as Día dos Namorados, or Day of the Lovers, a Brazilian Valentine’s Day, in honor of the matchmaker saint.

St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, so understandably the Lisboans claim him as their own. Like the Brazilians, the celebration begins the night before…

“When the sun sets, the whole town goes out to honor the saint with alfresco dining, grilled sardines with salad of peppers, irrigated course, with much red wine, and dancing to the beat of popular music…” (Lisbon at its Best)

In the morning, special services are held in the church built over the spot where he was born, and vintage convertible cars carry throngs of “St. Anthony’s brides” down the Avenue Liberdade.

Women write prayers and wishes on paper and tuck them into specially baked “St. Anthony’s bread”, a tradition that dates back to 1263 when…

…a child drowned in the Brenta River near the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua. The mother went to St. Anthony and promised that if her child were restored to life, she would give to the poor an amount of wheat equal to the weight of her child.  Of course her son was saved, and her promise was kept.” (Sardine Heaven: Lisbon’s Feast of St. Anthony)

The award for the most unusual St. Anthony’s Festival goes to San Miguel de Allenda, Mexico. There laborers originally celebrated May 17 as San Pascual Bailon (St. Pascal Baylon) Day, in honor of the patron saint of field and kitchen workers.

“To keep the paraders and observers separated, some paraders were dressed as scarecrows and their characteristic movements were described as “loco,” i.e., crazy. Somewhere along the way, paraders dressed as clowns replaced the field and kitchen workers, though the music and the dances stayed the same.” (El Dia de los Locos)

The popularity of the San Pascual Bailon parade overshadowed that of the more established San Antonio (St. Anthony), and the two festivities merged. Now the festival is held the Sunday after June 13 and is known as El Día de los Locos, or Day of the Crazies.

photo by Ronald Felton, licensed under Creative Commons

Fisheaters: Feast of St. Anthony of Padua

Lisbon’s Craziest Night

Italian Festivals in the U.S.

Book a hotel for St. Anthony’s Festival

Benito Juarez

March 21

March 21, the birth of spring, is also the birth of Mexico’s greatest leader, Benito Juarez.

On this day in 1806 Benito was born to poor Amerindian peasants in the mountains of Oaxaca. His parents died when he was three and Benito spent his youth working the corn fields and shepherding local flocks.

At age 12 he left the mountain village for the city of Oaxaca to live with a sister and work as a servant. There he learned Spanish (he spoke only Zapotec, and was illiterate) and thanks to the help of a Franciscan monk he befriended, gained entrance to a seminary school. He chose to go to law school rather than become a priest.

He worked as a lawyer from 1834 to 1842, as a judge for the next five years, and by 1847 he was Governor of Oaxaxa. However, in 1853 he spoke up against the corrupt government of dictator Santa Anna, and was forced to go into exile in the United States. There the former lawyer, judge and governor worked at a cigar factory in New Orleans.

When General Santa Anna finally resigned in 1855, Juarez was welcomed back to Mexico. The new government sought to abolish the military government and create a new federalist constitution. Juarez, who had helped to draft a plan for a liberal Mexican democracy during his exile, was selected as the country’s Chief Justice under the new liberal President Comonfort.

The honeymoon was short. Conservatives angered by the country’s new democratic direction launched a coup with the support of the military and the clergy. The Mexican War of the Reform was a time of schismatic rule. At first Comonfort tried to negotiate with conservatives, led by General Zuloaga. He agreed to dissolve the Congress and place Juarez and other liberal leaders in jail. However, when it became clear the conservatives were not going to stop short of anything but complete militaristic control of the country, Comonfort reinstated Congress, freed Juarez and other political prisoners, and resigned. Juarez became, by default, the interim president of Mexico. Since Zuloaga’s forces controlled Mexico City, Juarez moved his government to the state of Guanajuato (meaning “place of frogs”).

Juarez’s legitimacy was aided by the power struggle between Zuloaga and two other generals, each of whom took turns arresting and deposing one another and assuming military control. When the dust cleared, liberal forces marched back into Mexico City and regained the capital. Juarez became undisputed President in 1861.

Faced with a bankrupt economy, Juarez declared a moratorium on European debts. Spain, England and France responded by seizing the port of Veracruz. Juarez struck an agreement with Spain and England to repay Mexico’s loans, but France had other plans. They intended to establish a puppet dictatorship under Maximilian I.

Again Juarez took his government into exile, this time to the state of Chihuahua. Juarez could not get support from the United States, which was in the middle of its own Civil War.

Juarez sought, and got, support from Mexican-Americans in California (recently Mexico) and after the U.S. Civil War, Lincoln and other generals unofficially supported the Juarez government with weapons and men.

Maximilian was overthrown and executed in 1867, at which time Juarez became undisputed president for his fifth and last term. He would die while in office at the age of 66.

“It is given to men, sometimes, to attack the rights of others, to seize their goods, to threaten the lives of those who defend their nation, to make the highest virtues seem crimes, and to give their own vices the luster of true virtue. But there is one thing that cannot be influenced either by falsification or betrayal, namely the tremendous verdict of history. It is she who will judge us.

Benito Juarez to Emperor Maximilian

Mexican Flag Day

February 24

Flag of Mexico!
Legacy of our heroes,
Symbol of the unity of our parents and of our siblings,
We promise you to be always faithful
To the principles of liberty and justice
That make our Homeland
The independent, humane and generous nation
To which we dedicate our existence.

Flag Day is held on the anniversary of the creation of the Plan de Iguala in 1821, named for the city Iguala in which it was signed. The Plan did not end the War of Independence but paved the way for victory. It set forth three  ‘Guarantees’ or agreements of the future Constitutional Mexican government:

  1. Establishment of Roman Catholicism as the national religion<
  2. Creation of an independent, sovereign nation of Mexico
  3. Equality for social and ethnic groups

The call “Religión, Independencia y Unión” became the motto of the Mexican people, and the Plan led to the creation of national army, (the Army of the Three Guarantees) made up of the forces of Augustin de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero.

Iturbide was one of the most colorful and important figures in Mexican history.

Augustin de Iturbide Augustin de Iturbide

(Augustin de Iturbide)

Born in Mexico, the son of a Spanish father and Mexican mother, he joined the Spanish army at age 15. By 27, when the war broke out, he was a lieutenant. By 33 he was the commander of Spanish forces of Northern Mexico. Then, in 1820 Iturbide did a remarkable thing: he did a complete about face and joined the cause of the Mexicans, taking most of his army with him.

Upon signing of the Plan de Iguala, Iturbide’s forces joined with those of Vicente Guerrero, future President of Mexico. The Treaty of Cordoba, signed by the Spanish Viceroy confirmed the establishment of an independent Mexico in late 1821.

In 1822 Iturbide was crowned Augustin I, Emperor of Mexico. Opposition to his military style government steadily grew. Forces under General Santa Anna forced Iturbide to abdicate and leave the country, with the understanding he would be executed upon setting foot in Mexico again. Mexico was declared a republic in 1823.

Iturbide traveled to Italy and London, but returned to Mexico in 1824, despite the threat of execution. Authorities made good on their promise. Iturbide was arrested in Tamaulipas and shot by law enforcement authorities in the nearby town of Padilla. He was 42.

The first Mexican national flag was adopted by the Decree of November 2, 1821 and confirmed two months later on January 7, 1822.

Its colors stand for:

  • Green: hope and victory
  • White: purity of ideals
  • Red: blood of national heroes

The symbol of the eagle sitting atop a cactus devouring a serpent dates back to a timeless legend. The ancestors of the Aztecs wandered about Mexico for 200 years in search of a homeland. They had been told by the god Quetalcoatl that the site of their future home would be marked by an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. When they encountered such a scene they claimed the location as their homeland.

The site marks what is now Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world.

St. Anthony: Blessing of the Animals

January 17

St. Anthony the Hermit

And God maketh the beast of the earth after its kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, and God seeth that it was good.

— Genesis 1:25

Before there was Doctor Dolittle, there was St. Anthony Abad, patron saint of the animal kingdom.

St. Anthony the Hermit, or St. Anthony the Great, was born in Egypt in 251 AD and lived to be 105. At age 34, he relinquished all his wealth and headed into the desert to be alone with God and meditate on Christ. He spent twenty years in isolation living in an abandoned Roman fort on a mountain by the Nile. The devil tormented him with images of animals attacking him, but Anthony never gave in.

Later in life, according to legend, various animals helped guide Anthony on his travels, including a wolf and a raven.  Once a dog attacked his enemy. Once he cured a pig from illness. He’s often pictured wandering the wilderness with a pig by his side.

Anthony’s other claim to fame was his fight against the followers of Arian Christianity in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. Arias was an Egyptian Christian who taught that, while Jesus was divine, he was not the same as God. The Council of Nicea declared Arian Christianity heretical in 325 AD.

Blessings of pets and livestock are common, but not limited to Latin and Hispanic cultures. The biggest ceremonies occur on the Sundays nearest the feast days of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4) and St. Anthony the Hermit (January 17).

St. Anthony died on January 17, celebrated as his spiritual birth in Heaven.

Even now I remember being caught up in the moment, feeling inexplicably happy when my doggie received her very own blessing from the priest. When all is said and done, it was a remarkable experience, a chance to share our love for our beloved pets, and to renew our commitment to protecting and respecting all of God’s creatures.

Rose Lee Hayden, Goin’ to the Chapel, The Blessing of the Animals a la Romana

Night of the Radish

Forget everything you know about radishes.

Night of the Radishes is one of the most unique holidays in the Western hemisphere.  It has been celebrated in Oaxaca for hundreds of years, but only became an official holiday in 1897.

Radishes are actually native to China, and were brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. Two friars encouraged the the townspeople of Oaxaca to cultivate the radishes, and it is believed one of the friars suggested they carve and display the radishes to encourage the locals to buy their produce.

Night of the Radishes

Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

December 12

“…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

— Carlos Fuentes

It’s been said that Mexico came into being not in 1821–the year Spain recognized its independence–but nearly 300 years earlier, in 1531, when a recently widowed peasant-farmer named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, beheld the most spectacular vision in Mexican history.


On December 9, he was out walking near the ruins of Tepeyac Hill, where Aztecs once worshipped the mother goddess Tonatzin, when a young incarnation of the Virgin Mary appeared before him encompassed in a halo of light. She spoke to Juan Diego in his native tongue of Nahuatl, and asked him to deliver a message to the Mexican bishop: to build a church on the ground where she stood.

Upon hearing Juan Diego’s story, the bishop had his doubts. So the next time Juan Diego saw the Virgin, he confessed to her his failure to convince the bishop. She told him to pick some flowers at the top of the hill–even though it was December and no flowers should have been blooming. There he found Castilian roses, native to the bishop’s hometown in Spain. The Virgin arranged them in his tilma (apron), but when Juan Diego opened his tilma to the bishop, it held not flowers but the lifelike image of the Virgin of Guadalupe upon it.

Word spread of the miraculous vision and the image on the cloth. What the event suggested to the descendants of the Aztecs, many of whom had been made to feel unworthy by the strange pushers of this new faith due to the color of their skin, was that the Virgin revealed herself not to a Spanish bishop, but to a common, dark-skinned peasant. And Guadalupe herself was not the pale icon that had been forced upon the people by Europeans, but a mestizo, a mixture of races that would come to represent Mexico.

Old Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico City

During the Mexican War of Independence in the 1810’s, the Lady of Guadalupe became the symbol of the new-born nation and the country’s patron saint.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego as well. His feast day is December 9, the anniversary of the day he first saw Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12, the last day she appeared to him.

Today Mexico is still overwhelmingly Catholic, but as Gustavo Arellano points out:

You don’t have to be Mexican or even Catholic to celebrate Guadalupe. Heck, you don’t even have to believe in God. All you need is a belief in the equality of people that’s in the core of Guadalupe’s message and you will surely feel her redeeming love.

On December 12, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans gather in churches and communities throughout North America and celebrate the symbol of the people of Mexico and patron saint of the Americas.

Mexican Independence – Grito de Dolores

September 16

Before dawn, on the morning of September 16, 1810, townspeople of Dolores, Mexico, heard the church bells ring violently. They approached to find the parish priest, 57 year-old Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. But the speech the criollo Father shouted was far from the sermon they had in mind.

Father Hidalgo had just learned that a plan to overthrow the Spanish rulers had been betrayed. Soon the Spanish would arrest all those involved and quash the independence movement. The exact words of the priest’s plea to the townspeople to bring an end to hundreds of years of European rule over the mestizo inhabitants, were not written down. It is said he raised the image of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe and concluded with a shout: Mexicanos, viva Mexico!

Mexico was still called “New Spain” at that point. Just addressing the crowd as Mexicanos, and willing into existence a land of “Mexico” was revolutionary. Father Hidalgo’s plea is called the Grito de Dolores, the “Cry of Dolores”, after the village in which it was made. But, as Dolores also means ‘sorrows’, it can also be interpreted as the Cry of Sorrows.

Just after dawn, the infant rebel army marched to San Miguel. By the time the rag-tag force reached Guanajuanto at the end of the month, it had swelled to 20,000 men. Though the men were poorly armed and insufficiently trained, their sheer numbers overpowered the small force of Spanish soldiers holed up at the Alhóndiga (public granary). Rebels stormed the Alhóndiga and most of the Spanish, as well as wealthy criollos, were massacred.

Alhóndiga de Guanajunato
Alhóndiga de Guanajunato

Hidalgo and three other Mexican leaders were captured the following year on March 21, near the U.S.-Mexican border. They were convicted of treason, executed, and decapitated. Their heads were placed atop the four corners of the Alhóndiga in Guanajuanto as a message to the Mexican insurgents. There the heads remained for ten years.

On February 24, 1821, Mexican leaders signed the Plan de Iguala, which put forth the principles on which the country would be based, if the independence movement succeeded. Partly inspired by the Plan, conflicting Mexican forces joined together and defeated the Spanish army. The Treaty of Corboda assured the country’s long sought independence.

Father Hidalgo’s body was reburied in the country’s capital.

Today Mexicans celebrate their independence on the day of Father Hidalgo’s fateful shout for the autonomy, freedom, and equality for the Mexican people.