Quintana Roo – A Story of Law and Independence

In my previous post, the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, located at the eastern end of the Yucatan peninsula, was highlighted as the site of a large portion of the Mayan rainforest (the second largest in the American continent, behind the Amazon), where natural chicle (chewing gum) is produced. The region had remained under control of indigenous communities until the beginning of the 20th century, when dictator Porfirio Díaz imposed federal order in 1902, and established it as a territory, named after Andrés Quintana Roo, a hero of the Mexican Independence War. In the 1970s, Cancun was developed as an international tourist centre, and around that time, Quintana Roo finally became a state. Currently one of the 32 Mexican federal entities, the state is probably best known for its seafood and imported goods in the port and capital city of Chetumal, and internationally, still mostly for its tourist attractions, namely, the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Scaret and Xel-Ha, and the endless, white sandy beaches of Cancun and the Mayan Riviera.

Andrés Eligio Quintana Roo was born in the Yucatan peninsula on November 30, 1787. Like his father, Don José Matías Quintana, he was a lawyer by training, and also like him, nurtured ideals of a nation independent from Spanish rule. From school, and during Independence Day celebrations in Mexico (September 15-16), most Mexicans remember leaders in the front lines, such as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest in the town of Dolores, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, who rang the bell of his parish on the night of September 15, 1810, and first exhorted Mexicans to defend the “Holiest Queen and Mother of all Mexicans”, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and “fight against the bad government.” Other names often recalled are of military leaders and strategists, such as José María Morelos y Pavón, Ignacio Allende, and Vicente Guerrero. Unlike these war caudillos, Quintana Roo mostly remained behind the scenes, spending a good part of the long ten years of the Independence war (1810-1821) on the run or imprisoned, but equally important as the armed fight, he was fighting by writing, legislating and redacting law in favour of the rebel cause.

He first joined the army of Ignacio López Rayón, Hidalgo’s former right hand, in 1812, and was involved in the organization of the rebels into a more structured army, as well as the creation of an incognito group known as “Los Guadalupanos”. In 1813, Quintana Roo joined Morelos y Pavón, a priest who had responded to Hidalgo’s call in Southern Mexico, and consolidated the fight into a unified movement through the formation of the Congress of Chilpancingo. Quintana Roo presided this clandestine Congress and was also instrumental in the drafting of the first Declaration of Independence that same year.

Over the years, Quintana Roo edited and founded several liberal newspapers, and made the acquaintance of fellow journalist and pro-independence rebel Leona Vicario. Coming from a wealthy family, Leona Vicario nevertheless sympathized with, and was a member of, “Los Guadalupanos”, serving as a messenger and sponsor of the movement, and remaining loyal even after being exposed when one of her letters was intercepted. After her arrest, she was rescued and a spark rekindled her relationship with Quintana Roo; they were married shortly, in 1815. The couple was on the run until their arrest in 1818, then forced to accept amnesty (they had a baby daughter by then), and retreated to the city of Toluca. In 1820, the family, now with two daughters, was able to move to Mexico City.

After the end of the war in September of 1821, Quintana Roo was appointed as the first vice-president of the Instituto de Ciencias, Literatura y Artes (Institute of Science, Literature, and the Arts) created in 1826, and served in different public positions, including as a deputy for the state of Mexico, and Minister of Justice. Quintana Roo passed away in 1851, some nine years after his wife, Leona Vicario. They are both buried in the Mausoleum of the Column of Independence in Mexico City.

In the traditional re-enactment of Hidalgo’s “Cry for Independence”, known popularly as “El Grito”, Mexican presidents praise some of the prominent figures of the movement. Hidalgo, Morelos, Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, and Ignacio Allende are always mentioned, and some presidents have chosen to include other names, such as Vicente Guerrero, Juan Aldama, Hermenegildo Galeana, and Mariano Matamoros. The current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has emphasized female figures, praising both “nuestras madres y padres” – “our mothers and fathers”, and decided to include not Quintana Roo’s, but Leona Vicario’s name. Leona Vicario is only the third female figure to be mentioned at the presidential grito, after the Virgin of Guadalupe, in the original “cry” in 1810, and Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, who was instrumental in the planning of the rebellion and communicating feedback about the movement being discovered, forcing father Hidalgo to call people to take the arms on the night of September 15, 1810, instead of December of that year, as planned.

¡Viva la Independencia! ¡Viva Mexico!

It has been officially announced that all regular Independence Day events will take place this September of 2022, following two years of restrictions due to the COVID19 pandemic. The traditional “El Grito” is scheduled for the night of Thursday, September 15, along with fireworks; a Military Parade will take place the following morning, September 16.

The cuisine in the state of Quintana Roo has a clear common base with the rest of the peninsula, so iconic dishes of the neighbouring state of Yucatan are also traditional there, such as cochinita pibil, or papadzules (click on highlighted text for stories and recipes.) In addition, along with the freshest seafood cocktails and grilled platters, Quintana Roo also counts with original creations, unique to the region. Stay tuned for more on that in my next post.

13 thoughts on “Quintana Roo – A Story of Law and Independence

  1. Agustin Quintana Roo? You either enlightened me with the true history or your source is incorrect. Isn’t it Andrea Quintana Roo


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