Editor’s note: The following is part of a weekly series commemorating the University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.
The commemoration of the Mexican cry for independence, originally called “Grito de Dolores” and now commonly known as El Grito, was first organized in 1825 and is typically celebrated Sept. 15 or 16 each year to celebrate the Mexican War of Independence started Sept. 16, 1810.
Given its unique location on the U.S.-Mexico border, The University of Texas at El Paso has a connection to this annual celebration that traces back to the 1950s.
In October 1954, The Prospector student newspaper reported that two professors flew to Mexico City for a firsthand glimpse of the festivities. The professors, Edgar Thomas Ruff, Ph.D., and Robert Lewis Tappan, Ph.D., watched 15,000 schoolchildren sing the Mexican national anthem to an audience of 2.5 million people and took “numerous color slides for use in Spanish 314,” a course taught at Texas Western College, now UTEP.
Although Hispanic Heritage Week wouldn’t start at the university until 1968, the binational and bicultural community in El Paso held El Grito ceremonies at the Consulate General of Mexico and Liberty Hall until the event moved to Chamizal National Memorial. With the community’s continued interest, it was a logical step to bring some of the celebrations to the UTEP campus.
As the influence of the Chicano Movement grew, UTEP became one of the earliest schools to create a Chicano Studies program in the U.S. and in 1970 was the first Texas university to do so. By 1985, half of UTEP’s student body was Hispanic and a year later, the University had a majority Hispanic student population.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded Hispanic Heritage Week to a full 30 days to become Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 each year.
At UTEP, however, Hispanic Heritage celebrations last about two-and-a-half months, starting in late August and continuing through early November. There are many events on and off campus during that time, including a very authentic El Grito experience.
Started as a student event approximately 15 years ago, the El Grito celebrations at UTEP have been supported by offices and departments at the University such as Chicano Studies, the Mexican Student Association, the Student Government Association, the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies, the Department of Languages and Linguistics, the Office of International Programs, the Consulate General of Mexico, and the Division of Student Affairs, in addition to faculty, staff and students who volunteer their time and expertise.
What makes El Grito unique at UTEP is the University’s proximity to Mexico. Students from high schools and universities across the border come to UTEP to perform the same color guard ceremonies and live mariachi music one might experience in any major city in Mexico.
“This is an impressive event on this side of the border,” said Dennis Bixler-Márquez, Ph.D., director of Chicano Studies and professor of multicultural education at UTEP. “It would be like if ROTC’s drum and bugle corps played during the Fourth of July. It makes a great visual and cultural experience — the most authentic one you can have outside of Mexico. It’s unique in the U.S.”
The 2014 El Grito celebration on the UTEP campus will start at 11 a.m. Monday with the ballet folklorico group Flor y Canto at the Union Plaza. The ceremony will begin at approximately 11:45 a.m. From 12:30-1 p.m., Mariachi Campanitas de San Patricio, a children’s mariachi group, will perform. For more information, contact 915-747-5711.
Rachel Anna Neff, Ph.D., is a writer with the Office of University Communications.