The Mexican flag represents an ancient history that travels forward through time into modern day sensibilities—and one of the biggest cities in the world, Mexico City, is home to just shy of twenty-three million inhabitants.
Adopted in 1968, today’s Mexican flag is the descendant of earlier, similar versions that have been around since 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain after an eleven-year struggle. Mexican-born Spainards, Mestizos, and Amerindians were among the rebels who fought for independence, but it is the Amerindians, the Aztecs, a culture dating from the early 1100’s, who gave Mexico its primary patriotic symbol, a pictogram of a snake-eating eagle.
Among the Aztecs, one northern culture, the Mexica (pronounced me-shee-ka), embodied the Tenochca tribe. Tenochca culture included human sacrifice, and eventually other tribes banded together in an attempt to crush them. The survivors eventually fled. Aztec legend says that their war god, Huitzilopochtli, directed them to found a new city where they would find an eagle sitting on a prickly pear cactus, eating a serpent. Somewhere between 1300 and 1375, on a swampy island at the center of three lakes, they espied the sought-after lunching eagle and so settled and built the city Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.
First, then, a symbol of Aztec culture, the fearsome coat of arms now represents all of Mexico and figures prominently in the Mexican flag, positioned on a central white vertical band with a green band on the hoist side and red band on the fly side.
In 1821, the green portion of the Mexican flag signified independence, white the Catholic faith, and red the union of North Americans and Europeans. But during the mid-1800’s (a period of secularization), the colors’ meanings were reassigned, with green representing hope, white representing unity, and red the blood of national heroes.
When the Mexican flag is displayed, civilian Mexicans stand at attention with their right arm placed in a salute over their chests, just under the heart, with the palm facing downward. A military salute is used by the armed forces. When the Mexican president presides over military functions, he too, uses the military salute, but on civil occasions, he uses the civil salute. With its fascinating history, the Mexican Flag is a flag that honors both a country and a rich heritage.