3.21 Benito Juarez

Mexican Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo are holidays known around the globe, but two key Mexican historical figures will forever be linked not only to these celebrations, but forever recognized for their historical contributions.

The name Benito Juarez is easy to find in Mexico. Cities, towns and many streets throughout Mexico are named after him, as is Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez. Juarez’s face is easy to find, too – it’s on the 20-peso bill, for starters.

He is celebrated today with good reason. Not only is today, March 21, his birthday, but Juarez was widely regarded as one of Mexico’s greatest presidents. His contributions while in office are well documented, with his biggest victory coming while ruling in exile during the French intervention.

During Juarez’s reign as president, Mexican forces under Ignacio Zaragoza won an initial victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo. The French invasion continued, however, forcing Juarez to flee Mexico City a year later. Following a 2½-year government-in-exile, Juarez returned to Mexico victorious after French troops pulled out of the region in 1866. He was re-elected president in 1867 and again in 1871, before dying of a heart attack in office a year later.

Before Juarez, another key figure in the nation’s history was the “Father of Mexican independence,” Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.

Unlike Juarez, who began his career as a lawyer and judge, Hidalgo was a priest and not a political figure. On September 16, 1810, Hidalgo rang the church bell and gathered his congregation, where he gave the Grito de Dolores, announcing a revolution against the Spanish. This began the Mexican War of Independence. Though Hidalgo was caught and executed in 1811, the anniversary of his call is celebrated as Mexico’s Independence Day and he is regarded as one of Mexico’s most important historical figures.

Hidalgo and Juarez took different paths, and left different legacies, but both names will forever be carved into Mexico’s history.

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