The Legend of the Real Zorro: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, The Father of Mexican Independence
Unveiling the Legendary Figure
While most people associate the name “Zorro” with the swashbuckling hero from the movies, the real-life inspiration behind the character was a man named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Born in 1753 to a wealthy Creole family, Hidalgo is now regarded as the father of Mexican Independence. This article explores the life and accomplishments of this legendary figure, drawing parallels between the real person and the fictional Zorro while also highlighting their differences.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla: Early Life and Education
Hidalgo was born into privilege and received an excellent education at the Jesuit college in Valladolid, Mexico, where his brilliance earned him the nickname “El Zorro” (meaning “the fox”) (Noll & McMahon, 1910). After completing his studies, he became an ordained priest and taught theology at the College of San Nicolas Obispo, eventually becoming its rector (Prentice-Hall, Inc., n.d.).
Hidalgo’s passion for French culture and his belief in the Enlightenment ideas of liberty and equality led him to question the social order in Mexico (Hamnett, 1999). He was determined to help the native Mexicans, and in 1802, he became the parish priest in Dolores. There, he worked tirelessly to improve the lives of local peasants by teaching them better farming methods, introducing grape cultivation, and encouraging small handicraft businesses (Noll & McMahon, 1910).
The Road to Independence
Hidalgo’s efforts to empower the local population did not go unnoticed by the Spanish authorities, who were suspicious of his activities. When Napoleon conquered Spain in 1808, Mexico’s citizens were divided over their allegiance. Some wanted to restore the former king, while others accepted Napoleon’s brother as the new ruler (Noll & McMahon, 1910).
In September 1810, Spanish authorities discovered Hidalgo’s plans for a rebellion after a betrayal by one of the members of his group (Krauze, 1997). Some were arrested, while others fled. Hidalgo seized the opportunity to act, ringing the church bell on the morning of September 16th and calling the townspeople to rebellion with the battle cry, “el grito de Dolores” (the cry of Dolores) (Noll & McMahon, 1910).
Carrying a banner depicting Mexico’s patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Hidalgo led thousands of Indians and mestizos to overtake towns west of Mexico City from Spanish authorities, including Guanajuato (Hamnett, 1999). However, they made a strategic mistake by not capturing Mexico City itself (Noll & McMahon, 1910).
In Guadalajara, Hidalgo began working on setting up an independent government. Unrest and division within the movement arose over his reform plans and the composition of the rebellion, which consisted mostly of peasants (Noll & McMahon, 1910).
The Struggle and Legacy of El Zorro
In January 1811, Hidalgo and his followers suffered a defeat during a battle, and he was eventually captured by Spanish forces while fleeing north to the United States (Krauze, 1997). He was executed by firing squad on July 30, 1811 (Noll & McMahon, 1910).
Although Hidalgo, the real-life Zorro, had been killed, his vision of an independent Mexico finally came true ten years later.
Today, Mexico still celebrates its Independence Day on the anniversary of Hidalgo’s famous cry for revolution. Father Miguel Hidalgo, or El Zorro, is considered the father of Mexican Independence, and his legacy continues to inspire generations of Mexicans.
While the fictional Zorro from the movies is known for his swordsmanship and leaving a “Z” mark as a symbol of his actions, the real-life Zorro, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, fought for justice and equality using his intellect, determination, and unwavering belief in the power of social change. Both figures represent a fight against oppression, but Hidalgo’s legacy stands as a testament to the power of knowledge, courage, and conviction in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
Lasting Impact and Legacy
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s life and accomplishments continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of the Mexican people. He serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up against injustice and fighting for the rights of those who are marginalized. As the father of Mexican Independence, Hidalgo’s contributions have left an indelible mark on the history of Mexico, and his legacy continues to inspire generations to come.
Hamnett, B. R. (1999). Roots of Insurgency: Mexican Regions, 1750-1824. Cambridge University Press.
Krauze, E. (1997). Mexico: Biography of Power. HarperCollins.
Noll, A. H., & McMahon, A. P. (1910). The Life and Times of Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla. A. C. McClurg & Company.
Prentice-Hall, Inc. (n.d.). Chapter 21 Biography Activity — Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.