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Part Two: Formation of a Mexican National Symbol

Section 1: Independence, Revolution, and Mexicanidad 


 

  The shift between criollismo to Mexican nationalism, Mexicanidad, was established


during the political struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Spain at the time was
conquered by France while Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, was appointed the
new King. At the end of the eighteenth century Mexico was the richest of Spain’s colonies in the
New World. Of the income generated by its colonies, more than 60 percent came from Mexico.
The instability revealed social divisions. The upper classes sought to establish an autonomous
government that would represent their interests, and the lower classes struggled against the
dominance of the local elites. 1 The first truly political use of Guadalupe as a national symbol
was in Miguel Hidalgo’s movement of 1810. Guadalupe appeared on his banners, while his
troops proclaimed long life to her and death to the Spaniards. 2 During the eighteenth century
Guadalupe was considered a Virgin Mary for the criollos, and not intended for the native
peoples; however, that shifted and she became a symbol for all Mexicans, which included the
native and mestizo, mix of Spanish and native blood, population. On September of 1810 Miguel
Hidalgo, the parish priest of Dolores, called out the masses of central Mexico in rebellion against
the Spanish. Miguel Hidalgo then gave his followers banners with the image of La Virgen de
Guadalupe and later inscribed on their flags the slogans: “Long live religion! Long live our most
holy Mother of Guadalupe! Long live Ferdinand VII! Long live America and death to bad
government!” However, the natives and mestizos who joined the movement soon simplified the
war-cries into “Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe and death to the gachupines”, the later
popular name for European Spaniards. 3 Because of the strong influence by Miguel Hidalgo the
                                                            
1
   Burton Kirkwood. History of Mexico, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2000), 75. 
2
   Stafford Poole. Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531‐1797, 
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995),  3. 

3
   D. A Brading.  Mexican Phoenix Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition across five centuries, (Cambridge, 
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001),  228. 

 
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image of Guadalupe was soon used as a catalyst for nationalistic goals. The idea of having the
Virgin Mary and to be literally side by side with the image at war could have comforted the
native and mestizo groups who entered the rebellion.
Hidalgo took up the banner of Guadalupe giving the Virgin Mary the title of “General
Captain” and paraded the image around each of the city plazas he entered in Mexico City
(Fig. 15). 4 The historical narrative that describes how the banner was put to use during the
revolutionary march states that Hidalgo was part of a group of criollo conspirators who planned
the declaration of Independence in 1810. Somehow their schemes were reported to Spanish
officials. On September 13, 1810 orders were issued for the arrest of the leading conspirators,
which included Miguel Hidalgo. Before the Spanish officials could get to him, he decided to
rebel immediately instead of surrender. It was impossible for him to organize a criollo rebellion,
so he appealed to the natives and to the resentment endangered by centuries of oppression.
Hidalgo then gathered followers and arrested all the Spaniards in the town of Dolores. He then
rang the bell of his church, as though summoning the natives to Mass; and when his
congregation had assembled he climbed his pulpit and told them that the time had come to
overthrow the gachupines who had misgoverned them for so long. Armed and ready the natives
set off with Hidalgo to liberate Mexico. In the next village they took from a church a picture of
La Virgen de Guadalupe and thus became the banner of the revolution. 5 Juan O’Gorman’s
painting, Mexico City, Castle of Chapultepec Retablo of the Independence (Altarpiece of the
Independence) although produced in the 1960’s depicts the hostile environment that probably
occurred during the march (Fig. 16). The portrayal of the rebellious group lead by Miguel
Hidalgo gives the viewer an idea of the amount of tension and anger expressed throughout the
movement, and how the image of Guadalupe was used during the time of Independence.
Hidalgo is shown orating his speeches of freedom with the Guadalupe banner right above him
and a storm of angry men both criollo, native, and mestizo, are joined together marching to take
back their land. What about Guadalupe? How is she illustrated? It seems that Guadalupe’s skin
tone has not changed; it seems as if she is depicted similarly to the eighteenth century paintings
                                                            
4
   Jeanette Favrot Peterson. “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation?” Art Journal 51, No. 4 
(1992), 45. 

5
   Henry Bamford Parkes. A History of Mexico, (New York: New York Houghton Mifflin Co, 1960), 146‐47. 

 
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discussed in the last section. In the original banner, her tonality is nearly white, because the
banner is a khaki color due to age, but even in O’Gorman’s painting she is portrayed again with
white skin (Fig. 15, 16). Another representation, made in the early twentieth century, by the
Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada shows a print that was usually produced for
lampoons. The print The Shout of Liberty or Long Live Independence has Hidalgo holding the
banner with the image of Guadalupe while riding atop a white horse (Fig. 17). Posada portrays
Hidalgo as an elevated figure than his native allies who are running alongside him with their
straw hats, sandals, and ponchos on while crying out the gritos, popular chants or sayings, of
Independence. In 1900 Maucci Brothers, a Spanish publisher, commissioned Posada to illustrate
a series of pamphlets for children on the history of Mexico. This pamphlet was therefore a
publication for the masses, and in turn, visually connects Guadalupe with the Mexican
revolutionaries. The Mexican War of Independence marks the final realization of the
apocalyptic promise. The banner of the Guadalupe leads the insurgents; and their cause is
referred to as "her law." The land of the supernatural mother is finally possessed by her rightful
heirs. Most of which were the criollos who wanted independence from the Spanish authority.
Mother; hope, health, supernatural salvation and salvation from oppression; Chosen People and
national independence-all find expression in a single master symbol. 6 Although there are
multiple images that suggest Guadalupe’s direct link to the Independence movement, she is not
shown or associated with a distinct Mexican ethnic identity. Guadalupe is illustrated with a light
complexion, but her connection to the mestizos was because she is alongside them spiritually and
physically, in visual form, throughout the war. She is a giver of hope, a catalyst that gave the
poor a reason to fight, and used politically to communicate the ideals of that era.
Throughout the early twentieth century, during the divisive and violent period in Mexico,
the working class sought to exercise their influence and thereby became important players in the
revolutionary struggle. After Independence, Guadalupe emerged as the preeminent national
symbol of Mexico. This time, however, it was appropriated not by the criollos but by their
successors, the ruling classes of the newly independent state, whether liberal or conservative. 7 A
                                                            
6
   Eric R Wolf.  “The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol.” The Journal of American Folklore 71, No. 
279 (1958),  38. 

7
   Poole, (1995), 3. 

 
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hundred years after the Independence another revolutionary struggle began. The lower classes,
natives and mestizos, of the newly independent Mexico rebelled against the upper classes, the
criollo population. The Mexican Revolution was not simply a revolt against economic
deprivation. Changes in the social order and political uncertainty also provided the opportunity
for the people, both mestizos and natives, to protest and demand improvements. 8 Patriotism was
allied again with religion during the revolutionary decade following 1910. Some leaders of the
rebel armies, such as Emiliano Zapata, invoked Guadalupe in support of their cause. Zapatistas
wore her image in the band of their wide-brimmed hats. Only when affiliated with profound
social and agrarian reforms did Guadalupe's image become a viable symbol of freedom for all
classes. 9 Guadalupe during the revolutionary period was not directly shown as a mestiza woman
nor illustrated with a brown complexion. Images of Guadalupe were not altered to portray her
mestiza ethnicity, but were reproduced as attempted copies of the original, and projected the idea
of equality and freedom from oppression for all Mexicans.
After the revolutionary period the image of Guadalupe united all followers, mestizos,
natives, and criollos, to agree upon the idea of Mexican Nationality, Mexicanidad. During the
hostile period of Independence and Revolution the image was evoked to bring comfort to the
mestizo and native communities who fought for freedom and died for justice. According to
Victor Turner, Guadalupe was the natural connecting symbol of national protest. Guadalupe
was, starting in 1810, the supreme mobilizing symbol of nationalism and national community, a
populist symbol that activated the masses. 10 For Hidalgo and his ragtag army of Indians bent on
revenge for centuries of oppression, as for Emiliano Zapata’s sureños fighting for land and
liberty, Guadalupe symbolized liberation and native rights throughout the revolutionary period. 11
At the end of the revolutionary period images of Guadalupe could have easily crossed religious

                                                            
8
   Parkes, 131‐132. 

9
   Peterson (1992),  45. 

10
   Victor Turner. “Hidalgo: History as Social Drama”. 1974: 98‐155. (in) William B Taylor’s, “The Virgin of 
Guadalupe in New Spain: An Inquiry into the Social History of Marian Devotion.” American Ethnologist 14, No. 1 
(1987), 23.

11
   Poole (1995), 4. 

 
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boundaries. The legislated separation of church and state marked an end to her role as an
institutional insignia, and passed into the realm of popular culture. 12 This marked a new era of
Guadalupe imagery, and in the United States during the Chicano/a movement, artists began to
alter the image in order to directly link her to a particular ethnicity.

                                                            
12
   Peterson (1992), 46. 

 
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