Streets of Mexico – October 2022

Javier Mina and Pedro Moreno

In 1808, at the age of 18, Javier Mina abandoned his law studies to defend his homeland, Spain, from Napoleon’s invasion, and to restore King Ferdinand VII to his rightful throne. Mina became a guerilla fighter who was so successful that he soon commanded a force of nearly 1,400 soldiers and cavalry. He was captured, however, and sent to prison in France for the remainder of the war.

When he returned, Mina discovered that King Ferdinand had abandoned the liberal Constitution of 1812, re-establishing both an absolute monarchy as well as the Inquisition. Disillusioned, Mina turned down with disgust the command of a force to put down the insurgency in New Spain (soon-to-be Mexico), and joined instead a failed plot to overthrow the king. He ended up living in exile, a frustrated rebel with a noble cause.

That’s when he adopted the Mexican War for Independence as his own. “They also fought for freedom, and from that moment on, the cause of the Americans was mine.” Mina explained that he was not going to fight Spain, but tyranny: “Without destroying everywhere the colossus of despotism…we will never be able to regain our dignity…. It is essential that all the peoples where Spanish is spoken learn to be free…. The homeland is not limited to the place where we were born but, more properly, to the one that protects our personal rights.”

Mina and the small force he’d recruited could not have arrived in New Spain at a worse moment. With Hidalgo, Allende and now even Morelos all dead, the insurgency was fizzling, and many revolutionaries (with the famous exception of Guadalupe Victoria) were accepting the viceroy’s offer of amnesty. But, as contemporary historian Lucas Alemán described, “[Mina’s] expedition was a flash of lightning that briefly illuminated the Mexican horizon.”

Mina, despite setbacks, scored several victories. He finally joined Mexican revolutionary Pedro Moreno in his stronghold, Fuerte del Sombrero near Guanajuato.

Moreno had been a liberal-minded hacienda owner and trader who’d secretly aided the insurgency. When he came under suspicion, he’d rallied the local farmers and became a revolutionary, himself, causing havoc for the local Spanish authorities. When they’d kidnapped his youngest, 2-year-old daughter and offered to return her if he would only accept amnesty and step down, he’d refused. You see, Moreno was as committed to Mexican Independence as Mina was.

Moreno welcomed Mina into Fuerte del Sombrero with open arms, and even turned his command over to the younger man.

The Spaniards had had enough of them both, however, and laid siege to the fort with an overwhelming army. Eventually, they killed Moreno in battle and, shortly afterward, executed Mina ignominiously as a traitor.

Once again, the cause for independence seemed lost.

Oh, were you hoping for a happy ending? Sorry. This is Mexican history.

This is a selection from Ellison’s forthcoming book, Mexican Streets: Tales of Triumph and Tragedy.

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David Ellison
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