On This Day, 16 September 1909: Mexican Independence Day in Los Angeles

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Cinco de Mayo gets a lot of attention in America, even if many people don’t know much about its significance in the fight to oust the invaders who briefly declared an empire under the control of France in the 1860s.  Yet, the far more important holiday in Mexico is on 16 September, when that country celebrates its Independence Day.   This holiday tends to be little known, however, among non-Mexicans.

This ribbon, from the Homestead’s collection, was worn at the reception held for the 1909 celebration, sponsored by Club Cura Hidalgo [the Father Hidalgo Club] of Mexican Independence Day at Chutes Park, south of downtown Los Angeles.

So, let’s give Mexican Independence Day some due here by highlighting two great artifacts from the Homestead’s collection.  These are ribbons worn by celebrants at the 1909 Independence Day festivities.

The event was held at Chutes Park, which was the location, from the early 1870s as Washington Gardens and then transformed into an amusement park with a water ride in which cars sped down a chute into a pool; hence, the name of the park.  The park was at Main and Washington streets.

The Los Angeles Herald, 17 September 1909, covered the celebration of Mexican Independence Day at Chutes Park, as shown in this detail of the main article.

As recorded in the Los Angeles Herald‘s edition of 17 September, the celebration meant that

a bit of old Mexico was transported to Chutes Park yesterday , and the entire day was given over to enjoyment to the natives of that republic. . . the park was profusely decorated in red, white and green, the colors of the republic, and the occasion was enlivened by the many bright colored costumes of Mexican dress.

The paper also observed that “the program of the day was under the direction of Mrs. M.G. Gonzalez and committees of the club, Cura Hidalgo.”  This included the singing of Mexican national anthem with each stanza followed by a soloist and then a chorus and then an address in Spanish by Antonio Orfila, an attorney whose father married into the Dominguez family.  A cousin, Anita Davoust was the wife of John H. Temple, owner of the Homestead from 1888-1899.

The Herald piece included these three photos from the celebration highlighting the blending of Mexican and American elements.

The event included more speeches, including one by Charles F. Lummis, city librarian, magazine editor, and founder of the Southwest Museum, which opened in 1913, and music, races and other sports, a banquet and dancing to an orchestra.  Mayor George Alexander was an honored guest, as was a former Mexican army officer, Antonio Aguilar.  The Herald also provided coverage of festivities at Mission San Gabriel, the Plaza Church and elsewhere in Los Angeles.

The second ribbon from the Homestead’s collection of the 1909 event includes a great pin of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, leader of Mexican independence movement against Spain from 1810 to 1821.

Many of the same people involved at the Chutes Park event were at San Gabriel, including Gonzalez, Mayor Alexander, Orfila and Lummis, with the celebration “arranged for the purpose of securing funds for preserving the mission.”  Lummis was among the founders of the Landmarks Club, which sought to preserve historic sites in the region.

This weekend features many regional celebrations of Mexican Independence Day, though they will certainly vary considerably in content and program elements from the commemoration of 107 years ago.  The spirit, however, of the festivities will be the same–pride for a country’s achievement in securing its independence from Spain after a decade’s war of liberation.

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