Streets of Mexico – April 2022

El Pípila


Perhaps his nickname, “El Pípila” (The Turkey), referred to the freckles on his face, reminiscent of those on a turkey egg. Perhaps it highlighted his silly cackle of a laugh like a turkey’s gobble. Maybe he’d been born with both mental and physical disabilities, and the name was an insulting reference to his limp. Most likely, Pípila  never even existed.

Supposedly, Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro was a miner in Guanajuato. Twelve days after Miguel Hidalgo began the Mexican War for Independence on Dieciséis de Septiembre (September 16th ), 1810, the insurgentes (mostly just a ragtag, enraged mob of Native peasants) arrived in Guanajuato. The Spaniards and wealthy Creoles had taken refuge in El Alhóndiga de Granaditas, the town’s granary, an imposing, apparently impregnable stone fortress. Its only weak spot was its massive wooden door.

According to legend, Hidalgo turned to Pípila and exclaimed, “The country needs your courage . . . Will you dare to set fire to the door of the Alhóndiga?”

Pípila strapped a large, stone slab to his back to protect himself from Spanish muskets, and crawled like a turtle to the granary door. Using the torch and tar he’d carried with him, he set the door afire. Thus, Hidalgo’s “army” won the battle, and Pípila became the immortal hero he is.

What is rarely recounted with this compelling tale is the fact that, once Los Insurgentes stormed into the granary, they ignored the defenders’ attempts to surrender. They butchered them all—men, women, children . . . everyone—and then plundered their riches and treasures. The massacre infuriated Hidalgo’s co-commander, Ignacio Allende, and convinced most Creoles, including Agustín de Iturbide, to spurn the revolutionaries. It was a hollow victory.

Nonetheless, a huge, stone monument honoring El Pípila towers on a hillside overlooking Guanajuato. Pípila’s statue holds aloft a firebrand known as the “Torch of Liberty.”

April 2022 Issue

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David Ellison
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