Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Niños Héroes

In Mexico, much is made of the Niños Héroes, the "Boy Heroes" who sacrificed their lives rather than surrender to the invading North American U.S. forces during the very final stage of the U.S.-Mexican war. Frankly, I've never understood the appeal that these Niños Héroes have for Mexicans. Instead of admirable heroism, it just seems like futile stubbornness. Sad, really. There was absolutely no question about the outcome of the war at the time of their deaths; and the act of one of them (so the story goes) to jump to his death wrapped in the Mexican flag rather than let the flag be taken by the U.S. (which it was, eventually, anyway) seems utterly pointless. A needless and ultimately ineffective suicide. And yet, these young men have an over-exalted place in Mexican history. There are monuments constructed and streets named in their honor all over the country. There is a massive monument in Mexico City at the base of Chapultepec Castle in Chapultepec Park (which is where they made their last, heroic stand); and there is another impressive monument in Guadalajara along the very lovely Chapultepec Avenue. I guess one might compare these "Boy Heroes" to the story of Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but without the subsequent outcome of the sacrifice having resulted in an inspirational story that helped to win the war. At least the battle cry "Remember the Alamo" is associated with the defeat of Santa Anna at the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto, which resulted in the successful creation of the independent Republic of Texas. What did the sacrifice of the Niños Héroes lead to other than the tragic and unnecessary deaths of some very young boys, the youngest being a mere 12 years old? That's what I have a difficult time understanding.

At one level, I think the story of the Niños Héroes is emblematic of the kind of fatalism that I think exists within Mexican political culture. It's the idea of an irredeemable sacrifice associated with a negative outcome that is still celebrated in what I would consider disproportionate fashion. But it is what it is. And at the very least, the story of the Niños Héroes has produced some impressive and magnificent sculptures. Here's the one in Guadalajara:

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