At a high point outside Guanajuato City stands an enormous red-stone statue representing El Pipila, hero of the Mexican Independence. It is a tribute to a man who, in his own unusual way, set forth one of those small events that change the destiny of nations. The statue represents El Pipila as a strong man - legs apart, biceps bulging, holding a torch, ready to attack.|
The monumental statue is a remarkable effort to immortalize El Pipila in Guanajuato City. However, he has not received sufficient recognition in his native town. Instead, Captain Ignacio Allende, another hero, received most of the honors. Both were born in what was then called San Miguel el Grande, meaning the "great town of San Miguel."
It is NOT generally known that El Pipila was born in San Miguel and that "pipila" is only a nickname. He was a modest peon who worked in the gold mines exploding dynamite. With a stone slab tied to his back, he protected himself from falling stones and other debris. In the dark tunnels he carried a torch to see his way.
Captain Ignacio Allende, on the other hand, was the son of a wealthy Spanish nobleman. He distinguished himself in the military by his bravura as a daring horseman, and as a determined insurgent.
To this day, his impressive house, located at a corner of the jardin, the central plaza, is maintained as a museum. Unfortunately, it is practically empty of his belongings. At the entrance from the road to Queretaro, an equestrian statue shows him brandishing a sword above San Miguel. Every year a horse parade celebrates his birthday.
It was Allende who started the movement for independence, but it was El Pipila who won the battle in Guanajuato.
It is 1810. Spain is fighting the French. Mexicans seize the opportunity to claim their independence. Captain Ignacio Allende, an expert horseman, launches the offensive. He gallops from San Miguel el Grande toward Guanajuato City. Mexican soldiers and hoards of barefoot Indians follow him.
The Spaniards, however, have barricaded themselves in the Alhondiga de Granaditas, an invincible fortress built of solid stone blocks. Its walls, three-foot thick and two-story-high, are surrounded by water. There are no openings in front, except for two large wooden gates. The back doors face the moat.
The battle is absurdly uneven. From the top of the fortress, the Spaniards shoot at the rebels who are unable to climb the formidable walls. Captain Allende gallops from post to post, urging the rebels to double the strenuous but waning efforts. The Mexican soldiers are poorly trained and most of the Indians don't even understand Spanish.
It's a relentless carnage. The fight rages furiously. The moat overflows with dead bodies, turning the water red. The ammunition is running low.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the winds of battle change their course. At a cantina across the street from the Alhondiga, El Pipila and a group of peons are drinking pulque, an alcoholic beverage. Driven by despair, El Pipila dons his stone slab, grabs a burning torch, and on all fours, makes a straightaway toward the nearest wooden gate. Crouching under his bulletproof cover, he sets the gate afire. The flames quickly spread and begin to consume the dry, old wood.
The rest is easy.
The rebels demolish the remains of the burning door with machetes, axes, sticks and their own clenched fists. They enter and by pure chance, shoot the Spanish Commander, injuring him in the right eye. The gushing blood blinds him completely. The Spaniards panic and throw down their arms and surrender.
El Pipila is a national hero.
Everybody knows El Pipila's extraordinary achievement, but in San Miguel only a school carries his name. The modest house, where he was born, is unknown to most people. Only a small plaque, now dark and dirty from dust and fumes, is affixed to his house. The marker also bears his real name, a common name that nobody knows.
Even his nickname is belittling. It signifies hen-turkey-not a very flattering name indeed. Also, ironically, the statue does not truly represent our hero. If it did, it would show him on all fours, carrying a slab and wearing a loincloth.
The sculpture standing in Guanajuato City reminds us, however, of the hero's extraordinary capabilities. He dares to act on his own, without waiting for orders. . He is a man of creativity, transferring to the battlefield the experience acquired at the mines. He risks his own life to save his countrymen. He is a man of initiative, single-handed taking the offensive and leading his people to victory.
But it was Captain Ignacio Allende's name that was given, later on, to the town. It is now called San Miguel de Allende.
If you are so lucky as to find El Pipila's house, sit in the jardin and quietly reflect: should the town have been called San Miguel del Pipila?
San Miguel de Allende is now an historical landmark. El P�pila's house is located at Calle Barranca number 44, near El Chorro.
The town is located 150 miles NW of Mexico City. Comfortable buses take you there in four hours. San Miguel can also be reached from Guanajuato City, two hours by car or bus. Airplanes from Houston or Dallas land in Leon, near Guanajuato City. A taxi, buses or a carpool take about two and half-hours.
Dr. Susana Bouquet-Chestera is a French- Cuban- Brazilian- American born in Mexico, and a lover of that country. She writes for publications in both the U.S. and Mexico.