By Brandie Piper and Eva Barbosa
Many Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo with margaritas, Mexican beer, tortilla chips, salsa and an array of other Mexican foods, with the misunderstanding that it is Mexico’s Independence Day. But did you know that Sept. 16 is the actual Mexican Independence Day, which is known as Grito de Dolores – meaning “Cry of Dolores?” The one thing both celebrations have in common is food made from corn, which originated in Mexico. Let’s learn a little more about Mexico and corn.
First, here’s a bit of history about Mexico’s Independence. Grito de Dolores marks the start of the country’s War of Independence from Spain on Sept. 16, 1810. On that morning, Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a beloved Catholic priest who ordered the arrest of Spaniards in the town of Dolores, rang church bells and shouted “Mexicanos, viva Mexico,” encouraging Mexicans to take back land stolen from their predecessors by the Spaniards.
The Mexican War of Independence lasted 11 years, culminating in 1821 with the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba, which recognized Mexico as its own nation. Each year, Hidalgo’s “Cry of Dolores” is marked by the country’s president and local community leaders reciting a new version of the “Shout of Dolores.”
Mexican Independence Day is one of the most celebrated occasions in the country, as Mexicans celebrate their independence, culture, traditions and history. And it is the best opportunity to appreciate the foods of the country and the wealth of grains and vegetables produced there. The most typical dishes served at Grito de Dolores festivities are tamales, chiles en nogada (walnut sauce), chiles rellenos and pozole. And most of them, besides being tasty, have ingredients featuring the colors of Mexico’s flag: green, white and red.
In most dishes, the main ingredient is corn, a grain that has a great cultural value for Mexican people. Corn originated in Mexico at least 7,000 years ago. At that time, farmers harvested grain from the teosinte plant.
Teosinte is a bushy-looking plant that produces very small ears of grain with just a handful of kernels. Ancient farmers in Mexico used traditional breeding to select for the best traits of the plant, eventually breeding the plant to look more like what farmers plant today throughout the world.
The Mayan and Aztecs held corn in high regard. The Mayans believed that man was created from corn by the Gods, and the Aztecs believed the god Quetzalcoatl discovered corn and gave it to humans.
Today, corn still holds an important place in Mexican farming, cuisine and culture. Mexico ranks No. 5 in both acreage and production of corn, as Mexican farmers grow more corn on more than 7 million hectares (17 million acres), which produces 23.5 million metric tonnes (925 million bushels) of the crop. Tortillas and tamales are made from corn for meals. And many cities around Mexico hold festivals celebrating corn.
So as Mexico celebrates its Independence Day, Americans can be thankful for the Mexican farmers who long ago transformed a crop to the corn we know and love today and for the wonderful food that resulted, too!