Story Behind Mexico 5 Pesos Banknote, Year 1969 Artwork – Face and Back
Her husband was the Corregidor of the town of Queretero, a position of some political power. She became La Corregidora of Mexico, a position enshrined in the heart of a grateful nation.
“She”, as reported by a historian to BBC Mundo, “lit the fuse that started the Independence of Mexico.”
“She” is Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, who, living in early 1800s colonial Mexico, grew to despise the way the indigenous peoples were treated by their colonizers. While mothering 14 children as wife to a local politician, she began to attend literary meetings in her town home in which the literature of The Enlightenment was frequently discussed. After a time, she began to host these meetings in her home. And in due time the discussions, attended by educated figures such as Miguel Hidalgo and others, turned towards ideas of independence, and then a movement, and then, finally, plans for a independence.
With an upheaval in the Spanish monarchy, the possibilities of independence seemed more real than ever. The meetings in her home became the center of the developing insurgency. Plans were made and weapons began to become accumulated and cached in the houses of supporters. Plans were set for an uprising on December 10, 1810.
On September 13, it was learned that weapons were being stockpiled. The chief magistrate, the Corregidor, Doña Josefa Ortiz’ husband, was immediately informed and ordered to raid the houses, seize the weapons, and jail the participants. Worried for his wife, he told her of his orders; and, determined to protect her, locked her in a room to prevent her from arrest with the others.
The story is told here, that while locked up, she composed a letter of warning to Father Hidalgo, making it untraceable by pasting together individual letters from newspaper clippings. And then, while still locked in that room, she repeatedly stomped so hard on the floor with her heel, that one came to the door, one to whom she could entrust her letter to Hidalgo.
Hidalgo, receiving this intelligence, moved up the date of the insurgency to the morning of September 16, 1810. Early that morning Father Hidalgo rang the church bell summoning all the common peoples to Mass. There he delivered the impassioned sermon, now known in history as, The Cry of Dolores, in which he urged a rebellion against Spain so that Mexico could be governed by Mexicans.
“There is no scholarly consensus on the exact words Miguel Hidalgo said at the time. The book The Course of Mexican History says “the exact words of this most famous of all Mexican speeches are not known, or, rather, they are reproduced in almost as many variations as there are historians to reproduce them”.
The same book also argues that:
“ …the essential spirit of the message is… ‘My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the Gachupines!’
The date, September 16, 1810, the date of “The Cry of Dolores”, is celebrated in Mexico as Independence Day. It is considered to be the day the independence movement began.
And “that day” was possible, because of La Corregidora.
This image from the back of our banknote is very significant in the story of Mexico.
It has evolved over the centuries; and is reproduced in the nation’s coat of arms, great seal and flag. The coat of arms in 1821, at the first proclamation of independence of Mexico, showed the eagle on the cactus and wearing a crown. Two years later, while our heroine La Corregidora was still with us, the coat of arms was revised. The crown was removed, but the cactus remained; and the eagle now grasped the snake.
The image is reminiscent of the founding story of Mexico City, then named Tenochtitlan. The people of Aztlan, then residing north of contemporary Mexico, were directed to travel southward to find a new land. They were to look for an eagle perched upon a cactus and clutching a snake. This would indicate the place for the founding of a powerful empire. After years of traveling, place to place, during which they learned from other cultures, they arrived at Lake Texcoco. In the distance, in the middle of the lake, they saw an eagle, perched upon a cactus, devouring a snake. They had arrived. The Aztec empire flourished from that location.