By Elizabeth Kelly
Housesitting in Mexico
If you happen to be in Mexico on February 24th, you will see the flag paraded through the streets of villages and towns. You will also see the citizens raise their right arm, palm down, and then place it on their chest parallel to the heart. This is the salute given to the national flag, and you’ll see it the most on the Mexican Dia de Bandera: Flag Day. While the pledge of allegiance pays honor to the heroes of the land, it’s the flag itself that most serves as a tribute to the rich heritage of Mexico and her history.
The Coat of Arms
The coat of arms in the center of the flag is inspired by an Aztec legend that predates today’s Mexico by 700 years. Before the founding of Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztecs, an ancient prophecy told the people how they would know where to build. The site would be revealed by a sign: an eagle eating a snake while sitting atop a cactus. That spot, the marshy Lake Texcoco, was drained and cultivated by the Aztecs and became the thriving civilization upon whose remains the modern cities of Mexico are now built.
That legend, along with the Mexican’s Aztec ancestors, is now immortalized in the center of the national flag. The image of the eagle and the snake has religious connotations, as it relates to the beliefs of the ancient people, but it also serves as a symbol of triumph: the proud eagle defeating the evil snake. If you look closely, you’ll see the eagle is on a pedestal, which emerges from an unusual blue shape. That shape is the Aztec symbol for “water”. The coat of arms recognizes the swampy terrain from which a rich, thriving civilization managed to arise.
The field on which the coat of arms lies, vertical stripes of green, white and red, is often thought to be the same as those on the Italian flag. The Mexican flag has darker shades of green and red, though, and is actually longer. That means the stripes themselves are also in different proportion, and of course have their own unique meaning. That meaning, however, has evolved over time.
The symbolism of the colors of the flag, as decided in 1821, were green to represent independence from Spain, white for the purity of the Catholic faith, and red for the union between Europe and the Americas. In the mid 1800s, President Juarez brought modernization to the country, and the colors were decided to have a more secular meaning: green for hope, white for unity, and red to represent the blood of the country’s heroes.
Because the country’s laws do not officially define the meaning of the colors, some political groups and other clubs have incorporated the flag into their logos and assigned their own meanings and interpretation, but the majority of the country recognizes the symbolism that has been traditional since the 19th century.
Evolution of the Flag
The flag has seen several incarnations throughout the history of the country. In fact, the flag that was carried by Miguel Hidalgo during the War of Independence in 1810 was a depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is often considered to be the first flag of Mexico.
Hidalgo’s successor, Morelos, used a flag that also had an image of the virgin, but also included an eagle and cactus, though differing from the modern version as the eagle was crowned, sitting on a bridge, and accompanied by the letters “V.V.M.”: for “Viva la Virgen Maria.” These early flags are testament to the strong religious beliefs of the early soldiers for independence.
In 1821, the year that Mexico was recognized as a sovereign nation, the first flag of green, white and red was instated. This flag also used a crowned eagle and left out the legendary snake, but is the obvious predecessor of the current flag. The design went through several slight variations over the years, even being briefly abandoned in 1867 after the execution of Maximilian. The modern version was established in 1968 and made official by presidential decree.
Now, the flag that waves over the citizens of Mexico is a reminder of the country’s history, its people, and its land. Not just on Dia de Bandera, but every day, the people who pledge allegiance to the flag can remember their great land and their great heritage, from the Aztecs of the swampy city of Tenochtitlan to the proud citizens of Mexico City today.