A Muffled Cry for Independence

By Kary Vannice

Several years ago, at midnight on September 15th, I stood misty eyed in the zócalo of San Miguel de Allende as thousands of Mexicans reenacted “el Grito,” the cry for independence that occurred in Dolores de Hidalgo in 1810, just 40 kilometers from where I stood. This famous “call to arms” to rise up against Spanish rule is acted out in cities and towns all across Mexico annually.

And this was exactly what brought tears to my eyes, the effect of thousands of Mexicans joyously singing their national anthem. I had never before felt that kind of national pride. My countrymen have long since turned their Independence Day into a commercial affair and an excuse to party with pyrotechnics. It has lost its meaning to capitalism and the almighty dollar. In all my years, never once have I experienced Americans singing the Star Spangled Banner in unison on the Fourth of July.

This year, once again, I found myself in San Miguel de Allende on el Día de la Independencia. But this year, because of COVID-19, it was a very different scene here, and all over Mexico. The town square was blocked off and police were posted at all the entrances. No one would be portraying “el Grito” in a public venue in 2020.

In Mexico City, where last year’s presidential address was nearly drowned out by more than 130,000 red, white and green clad revelers, the president’s words hollowly echoed off the facades of the Metropolitan Cathedral and surrounding buildings with only the local riot police there to hear them. Everyone else was watching the address from their televisions, safely at home.

Perhaps this is the highest demonstration of national pride, to put aside one’s own individual desire to take to the streets and celebrate en masse and instead stay home to protect others from a deadly virus that has yet to be fully understood or controlled.

For the safety of all, Mexicans did not come together by the thousands to celebrate their patriotism, but instead opted for a muffled “grito” from behind a cubreboca (face mask) in small groups or family gatherings, demonstrating that independence is not so much an individual ideal, but a collective one here in Mexico, more of an “it takes a village” approach than one of personal liberties.

Unlike its neighbor to the north, where individuals are being encouraged to gather in large public venues, with no measures of safety or control, to support the current administration’s bid to maintain office, Mexican officials are encouraging and enforcing social distancing and safety protocols to diminish the spread of COVID-19. And given the current state of affairs, it is essential that the public comply for the sake of the collective.

As of Independence Day, a reported 71,049 Mexicans had died of COVID-19. On September 24, just over a week later, that number passed 75,000,out of 710,000 confirmed cases. Yes, that’s a 10% death rate, the third highest in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, despite the restrictions on large public gatherings.

The 10% death rate, coupled with Mexico’s being in the top ten countries with the most reported cases, makes it the 12th deadliest country in the world where COVID-19 is concerned, as reported by CNN Health (Sept. 24).

Why is Mexico suffering so much? There is much speculation, and some would say absolute quantifiable proof, to answer that question. On September 3, Forbes published an article by a Latin American-focused political analyst, Nathaniel Parish Flannery, who wrote “In Mexico, Covid-19 patients are dying because public hospitals are failing to save them. … According to Mexico’s publicly available epidemiological oversight database, only 20% of the country’s Covid-19 patients who died were intubated. An astounding 51,924 Covid-19 patients never received ventilator treatment before they died.”

He goes on to say, “the official death toll in Mexico is only a fraction of the real total. Tens of thousands of patients in Mexico never seek help, never get tested, and go unaccounted for.”

Flannery points the finger at the current administration for failing to manage the pandemic and for not focusing sufficient energy and resources on saving citizens’ lives.

There are few who would argue that numerous positive cases and deaths go unreported as millions of people in rural areas have little access to testing or adequate treatment if infected. It is likely that the true death toll will never be known.

Where does this leave the Mexican people? Well, quite frankly, bearing the brunt of responsibility to slow the spread of the virus themselves – which most are taking on willingly, as there were virtually no reports of any backlash to Independence Day celebrations being cancelled and the majority of Mexicans continue to wear facemasks in stores, on the street and especially in crowded areas.

If the government is indeed doing little more than handing down rules and regulations for the public to follow in an effort to stem the increasing death toll, individuals are left to shore up the public safety void by setting individual freedoms aside in deference to the survival of el pueblo.

It seems the “it takes a village” approach to overcoming COVID-19 may be Mexico’s best hope of celebrating el Grito in the town square next year and for years to come.

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