Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Señor Juárez

Each year the Mexican Consulate pays their respects to one of the great Mexican leaders by placing a floral display on the statue of Benito Juárez in the park. In honor of what would have been his 207th Birthday, we're giving you a little history (courtesy of on his contributions to the Mexico, the United States, and his relationship to 6th Avenue .

Mexican leader Benito Juárez stands out among Washington Generals

March 18, 2013
By John Rosales

Benito Juarez: Mexico’s George Washington
I wonder how many Watergate residents and Kennedy Center theater-goers who drive past the statue will acknowledge Benito Juarez’s birthday. He was born on March 21, 1806. I usually visit the statue around this time as homage to the full-blooded Zapotec Indian who was born to illiterate parents in an Oaxacan village. Taught to read and write by a Catholic priest, he became a lawyer and a judge who helped draft the Mexican constitution.

The statue was a gift in 1969 from the Mexican government in exchange for a portrait statue of Abraham Lincoln that was presented to Mexico in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. Often called the “George Washington of Mexico,” Juarez is positioned so he is pointing to the bust of Washington that sits on the campus of nearby George Washington University.

When I stare up at the full-length bronze figure, I half expect it to step off its granite base and talk to me. Artist Enrique Alciati created the realistic rendition in 1891. It was recast in 1968. While the statue’s right arm is raised and pointing, the left hand holds a book titled Reforma. Within the base is an urn containing soil from Oaxaca. Plaques contain both Spanish and English inscriptions of a famous Benito Juarez quote: “Respect for the rights of others is peace.”

Juarez’s right arm is pointing so assuredly I expect a taxi to stop any moment and take us touring. I wonder if he was into magical realism, as were so many great Latin American novelists. He wasn’t one for staying put, statuesque. In 1853, he fled to New Orleans to escape the corrupt military dictatorship of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The next year he helped draft the Plan of Ayutla, a document calling for Santa Anna’s deposition and a convention to implement a new constitution. It took. People responded.

Juarez modeled Mexico’s government after U.S.
In 1861, Benito Juarez was elected as Mexico’s 27th president. He befriended Abraham Lincoln, who gave him advice on establishing a democracy. Throughout his tenure, Juarez tried to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the U.S. model. He is revered as a reformer dedicated to democracy and equal rights for the nation’s indigenous Indian population, lessening the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and defense of national sovereignty. Juarez was re-elected president in 1867 and 1871.

In addition to D.C., the United States has statues of Juarez along Sixth Avenue in New York City’s Bryant Park, at the Plaza de las Américas on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago and on Basin Street in New Orleans, where he worked at a cigar factory while in exile. He died of a heart attack in 1872 in Mexico City. The date March 21 has become a national holiday in Mexico and a day for some of us to reflect on a hero who does not need a horse to accent his outdoor monument.

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