It’s been 170 years to the day since a moment that U.S. citizens have long forgotten but Mexicans continue to commemorate and grieve for the loss of life and territory to the U.S. government.
In the United States, the forgotten moment is called the “Mexican-American War” in a phrase highly manipulated by gringo historians to make people believe that it was a war provoked by Mexico.
In Mexico, the war is known as the U.S. invasion or “intervention” after which Mexico lost over half of its northern territories and a many a soldier with the invasion coming to an end with the taking of Chapultepec Castle, which at the time served as a military college.
Every year since then the fall of Chapultepec (chapollin – grasshopper, tepetl – hill in Nahuatl) has been commemorated as the last soldiers to die in the fray were not even soldiers but students some allegedly in their early teens.
For sure, as it happens every year, President Enrique Peña Nieto will lead the proceedings at the monument of the “hero children” (niños heroes) where the Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) will pay homage to the fallen in the final two days of the American invasion on Sept. 12 and 13, 1847. The event since 1848 has been called “The Heroic Defense of Chapultepec Castle by the Hero Children.”
The castle defenders are called “children” quoting a U.S. officer who as they went into the facility and saw the bodies of the defending soldiers expressed — or so says hearsay history — in worry the phrase “they are just a bunch of kids.”
In history, six of those “kids” — whose ages we don’t know nowadays but some historian’s claim that most of them were older than teenagers but some were between 13 and 15 — had names.
In today’s ceremony you will surely hear them loud and clear: Juan Escutia, Vicente Suárez, Francisco Márquez, Fernando Montes de Oca, Agustin Melgar and Juan de la Barrera.
For good or bad, the ceremony has not been modernized and unfortunately our student soldiers still use the same old language of yesteryear. Here’s a translation of how the last standing Mexican soldier in Chapultepec Castle decided to commit suicide instead of surrendering. Yet his way of killing himself went down into history as an act of ultimate heroism in defense of the nation.
“When cadet Juan Escutia perceived that all resistance to the enemy was useless, he moved in a hurry to our majestic tricolor ensign [flag] and without thinking twice he wrapped up himself in it so that it would not fall into enemy hands and jumped with his frail body crashing against the innumerable rocks under the hill, thus offering his short life to defend the sovereignty of our nation.”
Of course as an amateur reader of Mexican history — and particularly of this skirmish, not war, as it was a clear mismatch — I have more than often read that this story never happened, but the Mexican generals at the time needed to make it a point that the invasion was similar of that to a fight between and adult and a child. Indeed it was.
That Sept. 13, 1847, all military action came to a standstill and the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty negotiations began until the Treaty (not an agreement like NAFTA) was signed on Feb. 2, 1848.
Of all the remaining anecdotes there are three that stand out.
The first is the existence of the so-called American Cemetery where the remains of 1,100 U.S. soldiers killed in the battles around Mexico City — never downtown — can be found.
They are commemorated on May 30 with very little or no publicity, as even today the U.S. invasion remains an infamous act.
Two was the reaction of U.S. president James Polk upon learning of the U.S. victory and the offer by leading commander General Winfield Scott for Polk to keep the Mexican territory and not just the territories to the north. Immediately, Polk refused the offer and when asked why not keep it all, Polk is said to have retorted: “To many Indians.”
The third anecdote that no Mexican wants to remember is that the United States paid a $15 million compensation — remember that in those days it was two dollars for one solid silver peso — and in the end President Antonio López the Santa Anna ended up pocketing them.
There might be more — the amount of battles between Mexico City and California was humongous — but the most remembered one is indeed the fall of Chapultepec.
Indeed, a day to remember in Mexico.