Mexican Independence Day

Mexico Independence Day

Cinco de Mayo, a popular holiday celebrated in the United States, is often confused with the celebration of Mexican Independence.  But did you know that September 16th is really Mexican Independence Day and one of the biggest holidays celebrated among Mexicans?

In 1810, a priest named Miguel Hidalgo in the Mexican town of Dolores first issued the “El Grito de Dolores” or “cry for Independence”.  During Hidalgo’s famous “El Grito” speech, he motivated the Mexican people to revolt against the tyranny of Spanish rule.  He then led a poorly trained army to win several battles and after a decade of fighting, Mexico finally won their independence from Spain in 1821.

In Mexico, September 16th is a national holiday.  All government offices, banks, and schools are closed on this day and there are many parades and civic ceremonies across the country to commemorate Mexico’s independence. The Cry of Dolores is also re-enacted by local politicians in the public squares of most cities and towns throughout Mexico.

Similar to the 4th of July in the United States, Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated with parties, festivals, bell-ringing, parades, and especially great food.  Some of the common foods used to celebrate this special day include traditional Mexican cuisine like tamales, Queso Fundido (Mexican cheese fondue), Birria de Borrego (Spiced Roasted Lamb), Pozole (a soup made of hominy and pork), Chiles En Nogada (a Mexican dish that has the colors of the Mexican flag), tacos, guacamole, and is washed down with a delicious margarita or tequila.

Whether you have a Mexican heritage or just love Mexican food – September is a great time to celebrate Mexican culture and try out the delicious and authentic flavors that Ramona’s Mexican Restaurant offers.



Costa Rica's Independence Day Celebration

Costa Rica’s Independence Day is celebrated on September 15th.  It commemorates the independence of the entire Central America from Spain, which took place in 1821.  The news of the country’s independence reached the nation’s people about a month after the declaration of independence that occurred in Guatemala.

Following the independence, the first constitution of the country was soon embraced.  The celebration of the first elections in Costa Rica was held in December, 1821.  The first elected Chief of State was Juan Mora Fernández, whom did much for the advancement of his country and people, as well as promoted industrial and commercial development.

The Independence Day of Costa Rica has been declared an official national holiday in the country and is celebrated with much joy and cheerfulness.  The national holiday is marked by raising the National Flag, patriotic parades and the singing of the National Anthem. Even though September 15th is Costa Rica’s official Independence Day, festivities begin on the 14th, with the reenactment of the notification of Costa Rica’s liberation carrying the ‘freedom torch’.  At precisely 6:00 p.m., national TV and radio stations broadcast Costa Rica’s National Anthem, as the entire country sings along in a burst of patriotism.  Following the anthem, the popular ‘faroles’ parade begins – homemade lanterns symbolizing the original freedom torch.  Children in traditional costumes perform typical dances and then the fireworks begin.

Another important parade takes place on the morning of the 15th.  School bands march along with children wearing traditional dresses, dancing at the beat of drums and lyres.  During the vibrant and colorful processions, Costa Ricans, young and old alike, sit on sidewalks and enjoy the parade in a peaceful, friendly and family oriented environment.

There is typical Costa Rica food for sale in stands along the roads, such as arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), tamales,  fried yucca,  black beans and rice, fried plantains, rice pudding, coconut flan, and tres leches (three milk cake.)

Independence Day activities at commercial centers and other communal places are also very popular and free to the public, offering folkloric shows, typical dancing, great music and more.


National Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month

(Sept. 15-Oct. 15)

National Hispanic Heritage Month honors the culture, heritage, and contributions of Hispanic Americans each year. The event began in 1968 when Congress deemed the week including September 15 and 16 National Hispanic Heritage Week to celebrate the contributions and achievements of the diverse cultures within the Hispanic community.

The dates were chosen to commemorate two key historic events: Independence Day, honoring the formal signing of the Act of Independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (September 15, 1821), and Mexico’s Independence Day, which denotes the beginning of the struggle against Spanish control (September 16, 1810). It was not until 1988 that the event was expanded to month-long period, which includes El Dia de la Raza on October 12, which celebrates the influences of the people who came after Christopher Columbus and the multicultural, multiethnic society that evolved as a result; Chile’s Independence Day on September 18 (El Dieciocho); and Belize’s Independence Day on September 21.

Each year a different theme for the month is selected and a poster is created to reflect that theme.


More Latinos Are Going to College, But In Small Number of Schools

While more Latinos are heading to college than ever before, that trend is not increasing uniformly throughout all U.S. colleges, according to a study released Wednesday. In fact, more than six in 10 Latino students attend a small percentage of schools with large Hispanic populations.

A majority of Latinos attended Hispanic-Serving Institutions in 2014-2015 academic year, according to a study by Excelencia in Education, an organization which has been tracking Latino college enrollment since 2004. The number of HSIs increased by 7 percent in the same year and are concentrated in 18 states.

"I think the highlight here is that Latino enrollment in higher education is increasing, but so is the concentration of Latino students on campuses," said Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president for policy at Excelencia.

Out of all colleges and universities in the U.S., 13 percent are classified as HSI and 62 percent of Latino college students attend these schools.

To qualify as an HSI, at least 25 percent of the student body must be Hispanic or Latino. There are 435 institutions in the U.S. that fall into that category. Santiago said when you include "emerging HSIs", which have 15-24 percent Latino enrollment rates, another 310 schools qualify.

Poet's Pacific paradise: Pablo Neruda’s homes in Chile

"If we walk up and down all the stairs of Valparaíso we’ll have walked all round the world.” Poet Pablo Neruda was alluding to the cosmopolitan vitality of Chile’s second city, chief port and most romantic – and likeable – metropolis. He might also have been referring to the workout you get hiking around “Valpo” – as locals dub it. Spread over 42 hills, its mansions, houses, shanties and steep, cobbled roads are a sea-facing sprawl. When you get lost and hot, it’s a relief to stumble on one of the four ascensores – funicular lifts – which cut out some of the climbing.

I’d been to Valpo before, to eat ceviche and enjoy fine wines from the nearby Casablanca valley, but this time I mainly wanted to explore the relationship between the city and Chile’s Nobel prize-winning poet. A new film, Neruda, starring Luis Gnecco and Gael García Bernal, goes on general UK release on 7 April. That and a new direct flight this year from Heathrow to Santiago international airport (an hour or so from Valparaíso) is bound to revive interest in Chile’s second city.

I began my mini-pilgrimage 84km south of Valparaíso, at Isla Negra. This is not an island at all, but a gorgeous beach spot where, in 1944, Neruda started building a house where he could work on his masterpiece, Canto General, and throw parties. It took two architects, with their demanding client advising, around 20 years to complete the house. Neruda travelled around Chile and overseas as senator and leading communist party member. He was also exiled for several years in Buenos Aires and Mexico. But, as Neruda put it: “The house kept growing, like people, like trees.”

La Casa de Isla Negra, the poet’s beachside home.
 La Casa de Isla Negra, the poet’s beachside home. Photograph: Alamy

Every 10 minutes, up to 14 people are allowed into his Casa de Isla Negra, which they tour with an audioguide. The commentary is academic in detail and, if inevitably positive about Neruda, still enlightening. The house is a marvel, with rooms decorated according to the writer’s passions. One living room is shaped like a ship, another like a train carriage. Huge figureheads jut out at every turn, and ships in bottles fill windowsills. Neruda was an avid collector, of bottles, shells, insects, butterflies and, from the looks of his wardrobe, tweed jackets, ponchos and hats.

With its ship-like narrow corridors and steep staircases, vivid paintwork, and mismatched and modernist furniture, the house doesn’t look dated at all. It evokes a Neruda who was playful, whimsical and – for a communist – a lover of luxuries. To entertain friends, he had a large bar built, and he liked his guests to come in fancy dress, on themes he dictated.

Immature? Maybe, but as Neruda said: “The man who does not play has lost the child within him.”

Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in a still from the film.
 Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda in a still from the film.

Outside the house is Neruda’s tomb, and below it a stunning rocky beach. Even on a day of low wind, surf was crashing, turquoise with frothing white tops, and the light magical. I asked a Brazilian woman to take my photo and, unbidden, she poured forth her feelings for Neruda. “I’ve been in tears. This is such a magical place. I’ve been wanting to come here for years.”

I’m not sure any European poet has quite this effect on people. Nor can her passion be written off as typical of Latin Americans. A little later, at the cafe (where Neruda-label wine was on offer), a local woman, when I mentioned my Brazilian friend, witheringly exclaimed, “Que tontita!” “How silly!” Neruda divides opinion, especially in his home nation. One local told me at least a third of Chileans are pro-Pinochet, which makes them anti-Neruda.

After lunch at a roadside restaurant, it was on to Valparaíso to visit Neruda’s hilltop house, La Sebastiana (named after its original owner, Sebastián Collado) where he held a big housewarming party in September 1961. Neruda liked to celebrate New Year’s Eve there and, taking in the view from the top floor, I could understand why. By day, you see Valpo’s colourful wooden houses and shacks tumbling down to the port; by night, they become a host of tiny lights, mirroring the Milky Way above.

Pablo Neruda in 1952
 Pablo Neruda in 1952. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library

This less cluttered, more sophisticated house (another good audioguide was provided) suggests further sides of Neruda’s personality. Antique maps and art, and screens from Asia, tell of his exotic travels. A large portrait of Walt Whitman honours a major influence. Another, of Lord Cochrane, reminds us of Scotland’s links with Chile’s independence wars. An antique merry-go-round horse evokes the child again, or the nostalgist. The walls are painted in lively blues and pinks, to “make them dance”, according to a poem about La Sebastiana.

Sunshine pours into the higher floors, and the eyrie-like feel of his working space – his chair stained with green ink – reminded me of Dylan Thomas’s shed in Laugharne. Both men were hedonists, womanisers, socially extrovert; both needed hideaways to get down to writing.

“I feel the tiredness of Santiago,” he wrote. “I want to find in Valparaíso a little house to live and write quietly. It must meet certain conditions. It can’t be located too high or too low. It should be solitary but not excessively so.”

La Sebastiana, Neruda’s house in Valparaiso.
 La Sebastiana, Neruda’s house in Valparaiso. Photograph: Alamy

His builders nailed it. La Sebastiana is the ultimate city home: peaceful and aloof, but boasting a view of Valparaíso. And it’s a convivial, colourful place, too. But, as anyone will tell you, Valpo lacks major museums and other attractions. As well as being great fun and quite inspiring, Neruda’s poetic pads are obligatory stops for anyone keen to understand Chile and its recent history. It was at Isla Negra that his poetry and politics came together. It was in La Sebastiana that he came to global prominence. The houses speak to their settings, merge with them, reshape them in their window frames.

“I love Valparaíso,” wrote Neruda. “Queen of all the world’s coasts,/True head office of waves and ships,… I love your criminal alleyways.”

I loved it too. From La Sebastiana, I made my way back to my hotel on foot – downhill – via lanes and staircases, past walls bursting with street art, via tiny bars and shadow-filled plazas. The “crazy port” made more sense now; Neruda did too.

Isla Negra and La Sebastiana are not the only Neruda-linked sites in Chile. Santiago’s Bellavista neighbourhood boasts a third house, La Chascona, also worth a visit. Neruda was born in Parral, in the wine-growing Maule region, and brought up in the southern city of Temuco (which has a dedicated walk). As a diplomat, he spent time in Mexico, Catalonia, British-ruled Burma (“I still hate the English,” he wrote), Ceylon, Java and Singapore. The ultimate globetrotting troubadour, Neruda exerts a powerful appeal for travellers. But do go and visit his two favourite seaside houses, and his beloved Valpo. Even if you don’t feel you’ve quite circled the globe, you’ll have seen something of his poetry-filled world.

 Ch$7,000 (£8.65) per person per house; audioguides in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. More info at

 Neruda is released in UK cinemas on 7 April