Last summer, I spent a two-week vacation studying Spanish in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which is located in the heart of Mexico, about three hours north of Mexico City. This is the area of Mexico where the fight for independence from Spanish rule began in 1810. On September 16 of that year, a date now celebrated as Mexican Independence Day, a Mexican priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the church bells in Dolores, which is located about 30 miles from San Miguel de Allende. When the peasants responded to the sound of the bells, Hidalgo delivered his famous call for independence – “El Grito de Dolores.”
Hidalgo and about 400 followers began marching toward Guanajuato, about 100 miles away, a city famous for its silver mines, which were helping fund the Spanish Empire. By the time they arrived in Guanajuato, Hidalgo’s army had grown to an estimated 50,000.
In the middle of Guanajuato was a fortress called the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. Hidalgo’s forces attacked but were repelled with heavy losses. Finally, one of the rebels had a large, heavy stone tied to his back to deflect rifle shots and, with oil and torch, slowly crawled to the front door of the Alhóndiga, which he ignited. The door burned and collapsed. The rebels entered and killed the Spanish soldiers. Today, there is a huge statue of “El Pípila,” the man who ignited the door, overlooking the city of Guanajuato.
A short time later, however, Hidalgo’s forces faced the full brunt of the well-armed, well-trained Spanish army. The campesinos were no match for the Spanish troops. The rebels were soundly defeated.
Hidalgo and other leaders of the revolution were soon captured. The Spanish authorities did not treat them kindly. In 1811, the four leaders of the movement for independence, Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende (San Miguel de Allende bears his name), Juan de Aldama, and José Mariano Jiminez were executed and beheaded. The heads of the four revolutionaries were hung in cages on the four outside corners of the Alhóndiga and they hung there until independence was won ten years later in 1821!
One can still see the iron poles from which the cages hung jutting out from the Alhóndiga. On each corner of the building, the Mexicans have placed a plaque that contains the name of the revolutionary leader whose head was hung there.
Today, San Miguel de Allende has a population of about 50,000. As part of the Spanish school I attended, I lived with a local family and interacted mostly with Mexican people. However, owing to its reputation as a city for arts and crafts, San Miguel has attracted a large number of wealthy American residents – an estimated 5,000 of them. My Spanish instructor told me that one of the complaints that the Mexicans have is that the Americans in San Miguel rarely learn Spanish or socialize with the locals.
I couldn’t help but be amused by this situation because I kept thinking about all those Americans who become so outraged over Mexicans who come to the United States and fail to learn English. I wondered whether they would be equally outraged if they knew about the Americans living in San Miguel de Allende who haven’t bothered to learn Spanish.
One evening, a friend of mine and I had supper with three friendly students from the University of Guanajuato. We began discussing the illegal-alien situation in the United States and I shared with them my convictions. I said that what our government had done for decades to the Mexican people was absolutely horrible – that the people who go north to sustain or improve their lives with labor are not criminals. The real criminals, I told them, are the U.S. federal judges, prosecutors, and immigration officials who jail the Mexican people – as well as the lawmakers who enact our immigration laws.
The students looked at me in stunned silence. All of a sudden, one of the two girls started crying. Her boyfriend explained to me, “We hate how your country has treated our people. And we have never heard an American talk like you.”
One cannot help but be struck by the widespread poverty throughout Mexico. Unfortunately, however, the Mexican people are unable to confront the cause: massive governmental involvement in their lives and fortunes along with the enormous taxes needed to fund it all. There is actually only one solution to the poverty: prohibit government from combating poverty; that is, end all governmental involvement in education, Social Security, health care, and the economy, along with all the taxes, inflation, and regulations that come with them. But it is very difficult for the average Mexican to accept such a drastic remedy.
Ironically, the people of the United States are benefiting from the economic distress. Our country continues to attract some of the finest young men and women of Mexico. These are people who are willing to leave families and friends and risk their very lives in the hope of improving their lot in life and that of their families. They have all the attributes that a nation should relish: they are hard working, entrepreneurial, thrifty, family-oriented, religious, and humble. Mexico’s loss is clearly our gain.
Mr. Hornberger is co-editor of The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration.