Many Omahans are in the midst of celebrating their Mexican Heritage. Mexican Heritage month officially began yesterday. One may wonder why this “month” doesn’t begin on the 1st day of the month. Perhaps it is because September 15th marks the beginning of Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations. Many assume that Cinco de Mayo is the day of Mexican independence because of it similarity to Fourth of July. However, Mexico won its independence from Spain after the War of Independence, which began on September 16, 1810 and lasted until 1821.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest from the village of Dolores, had been working for independence. However, Hidalgo received word that the independence movement had been discovered and he was to be arrested. Hidalgo, who was the former dean of the College of San Nicolas in Michoacan, was a well-educated, courageous humanitarian who was also very sympathetic to the Indians. As such, he was loved and respected by many native Mexicans.
Shortly before dawn on September 16, 1810, Hidalgo rang the church bell, which called the indigenous people to mass. Hidalgo encouraged the people to retaliate against the Spaniards, who had exploited and oppressed them for nearly 300 years. With the enlistment of natives, Hidalgo had access not only to much-needed weaponry, but also to a motivation that had been building for centuries. The indigenous forces headed toward Mexico City to defeat the Spaniards.
The United States has an equally long history of being home to Mexican people. In fact, a large portion of the southwestern United States is Mexico, historically speaking.
Until 1848, most of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, were part of Mexico. Mexico also held claim to the state of Texas. Then, in 1852, another swath of Mexico along the Arizona/New Mexico border became US territory with the Gadsden Purchase. Thus, as the US gained these lands, many Mexican people found themselves residents of the US. Therefore, Mexicans have been in the “US” since before it was the US.
During World War II, many American men shipped overseas; and the remaining citizens, including women, found themselves working to further the war effort. The United States was in need of workers to farm our land and feed our women and children. In the absence of so many American men, Mexican citizens stepped in to help. Under the Bracero program, which operated from about 1942 to 1964, upwards of four million Mexican nationals came to the United States as agricultural and railroad workers. This was of great benefit to the US. According to Carlos Marentes of Sin Fronteras, “The Mexicans converted the agricultural fields of America into the most productive in the planet.”
Mexican people whom have moved into the Omaha area also have had a positive effect, both financially and socially. The Mexican population contributes heavily to our economy through purchases of food, clothing, and other items. The growth of their population here bolstered a dwindling population, as the number exiting Nebraska exceeded the number moving in, over a period of years. Further, Mexican people are revitalizing many neighborhoods in Omaha through their very presence. Neighborhoods which were once havens for drug activity and other crimes are family-oriented once again. What we see is a very positive impact on the community as a whole; when the sound of children laughing and playing replaces the sounds of crime, which rang out in some neighborhoods for many years. Indeed, the Mexican Heritage is something to celebrate!