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Culture Focus

Far From Home: Celebrating Mexico’s Independence

Illustration Credit: Eva DiNino

On the night of September 15th, Mexico bursts with joy and color as people flood into the streets and public squares to celebrate their country’s independence. Decorations and lights of green, white and red dress every building in sight as their residents and owners seek to pay homage to their national flag. People walk around their towns dressed in traditional clothes, meandering through the countless food and souvenir stands, sharing in their collective Mexican identity. Mariachi bands and fried foods fill the air with a concert of sounds and smells that no one who takes part in this experience will be able to forget. These activities are mere preparations for 11 o’clock when the president or local authorities go out on the city hall’s central balcony to exclaim “Viva México!” as the exploding fireworks and tolling bells echo the joy of the people.

Meanwhile, in a room in North Philadelphia, I sit on my bed, lit by a cold light on my desk trying to do homework. This particular assignment takes a lot of my time, so I cannot watch the celebrations on the Internet. My only connection to Mexico is my parents, who regularly keep me updated on their festive activities and those of my fellow countrymen. Here, the sounds of fireworks, bells and celebration are replaced by cheers and exclamations from my roommates at the football watch party downstairs. It is September 15th, and I cannot celebrate my country’s independence.

The truth is that for the past four years living by myself in the United States, it has never been easy to express my pride and happiness to be Mexican on that date. I just have not been lucky enough to live near a group of people who share my nationality. This reality is somewhat alienating; there is so much energy that I am willing to share, but few people who are able to understand it. 

I am reminded of this reality every year. In September, I always organize a get together where I invite close friends to eat homemade Mexican food and hang out. My hope is to engage in conversations about Mexico: its history, culture, and current situation. There are talks about such subjects, but they are often superficial and short. People may ask me about Day of the Dead or mariachi, but the discussion does not go beyond stereotypical issues. My enthusiasm fades a little as I am left without deeper conversations about Mexico and with the realization that few people are interested about it.

Yet, my biggest concern is that my fellow compatriots are also lacking the zeal and love for their nation. When Mexico achieved its independence in 1821, the country’s newborn citizens referred to that date as “the nation’s happiest day.” After 11 years of war, their efforts and sacrifices were awarded with freedom. Today, that sense of achievement is not there, and people only refer to Independence Day as a day for partying. While it is true that they are showing their fullest Mexican pride on September 15th, I fear they confine such energy to that date. The theft of artwork, the vandalization of heritage sites and carelessness for the environment makes me doubt whether those people actually feel proud of being Mexican. 

Even worse, there is disinterest in discussing our country. I always find people talking about sports and soap operas, but not about the country’s history or persistent discriminatory behavior. Indeed, one may be wearing traditional clothing and playing traditional music the night of September 15th, but why does that matter if one forgets to care about his country the rest of the year and use the date as an excuse to party? 

Even though planning a celebration seems pointless, I do not want Independence Day to go unnoticed. I owe it to my parents who always taught me to love my country. I owe it to Mexicans in the past who struggled to create a better country. I owe it to Mexicans in the present fighting to bring down discrimination and inequality. While others may not empathize with my deep love and concern for Mexico, that should not be an excuse to hide my patriotism and not share it with others who are willing to at least attempt to understand it. 

In reality, no one should constrain national pride to a single date. Celebrating Mexico for one night is not bad, but it would be better if all Mexicans become better citizens and work together to uphold the values of faith, union and independence from which Mexico was born. As I find myself far from home, my hope is to return home one day and see that such an attitude has changed and that Mexicans show their pride every day of the year.