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Mexico City's bells ring for Independence Day, in a massive celebration

Fireworks soar over the National Palace Thursday night to mark the start of Independence Day celebrations in Mexico City.
Alfredo Estrella
/
AFP via Getty Images
Fireworks soar over the National Palace Thursday night to mark the start of Independence Day celebrations in Mexico City.

Bells rang through Mexico City Thursday night, recreating the 1810 call to arms famously known as El Grito — the cry to overthrow Spanish rule and fight for independence.

"Viva México!" President Andrés Manuel López Obrador shouted repeatedly — calls that were loudly echoed by the massive crowd that packed Mexico City's Zócalo, the capital's main square. He celebrated Mexico's identity, its culture, its indigenous people; he also acknowledged the challenges the country faces.

"Death to corruption, death to classism, death to racism!" López Obrador said in Spanish. Responding to each phrase, the crowd shouted, "Muera!" (Die!)

Estimates of the huge crowd's size varied. At one point, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said she was told 130,000 people were in the square; as the night crept into the early hours of Friday, she reported an even bigger number: 140,000.

It was Mexico's first full-fledged Independence Day celebration since the COVID-19 pandemic dampened 2020's event, and people responded with glee, wearing green, white and red paint and bushy fake mustaches.

The crowd braved periodic rainfall, rewarded with a concert by norteño legends Los Tigres del Norte.

The government issued a video of the celebration, showing a military honor guard presenting Mexico's tricolor flag to López Obrador, followed by his invocation to the crowd, the national anthem and a large fireworks show.

As is traditional, when the president finished his brief speech he repeatedly yanked on a long sash to ring a bell perched high in the palace's wall — the same church bell the priest Miguel Hidalgo rang 212 years ago in the town of Dolores, signaling the start of the war against Spain and the fight for Mexico's future.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador addresses a huge crowd marking El Grito — the 1810 cry to overthrow Spanish rule and fight for independence.
Alfredo Estrella / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador addresses a huge crowd marking El Grito — the 1810 cry to overthrow Spanish rule and fight for independence.

The festivities extended beyond Mexico City and Mexico's borders. A special light show marked the day in Dallas, for instance.

Mexican expats and others abroad traded tips on where to find traditional dishes like pozole and chiles en nogada -- which Mexico's embassy to the U.S. describes as "a poblano chile prepared with ingredients that symbolize the Mexican flag," including parsley, a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.

The formal date of Mexico's Independence Day is Sept. 16. But the commemorations begin the night before, to mark the early-morning call to arms that rang out from Dolores.

López Obrador's guests for the celebration presented an interesting tableau. Watching from the National Palace's balcony were Bolivia's former President Evo Morales, Uruguay's former President José Mujica, and Aleida Guevara, the daughter of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. They stood alongside John and Gabriel Shipton, the father and brother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.