Flag of Mexico

Unlike many other flags around the world, Mexico’s national flag is one that has not changed significantly since its first version in 1821. The design of the first Mexican flag was greatly influenced by the flags Mexicans were using during the War of Independence from Spain.  Many of these rebel flags included the eagle on a cactus and the official flag colors: green, white, and red.

Agustín de Iturbide officially decreed Mexico’s first national flag in November 1821, following Mexico’s independence from Spain, although the the flag was not officially used until July 1822.  The flag included the vertical tricolor of green, white, and red, and the national coat of arms, the crowned eagle, in the center.

When Mexico became a federal republic in 1823, the government altered the flag slightly.  Instead of a crowned eagle, the eagle was depicted with a serpent in its right talon.  The flag also included the oak and laurel branches that are still included in the Mexican flag today.

The Federal Republic of Mexico gave way in 1865 to the Second Mexican Empire, and once again, the flag changed.  Still keeping the vertical green, white, and red tricolor pattern, the Emperor Maximilian ordered the ratio of the flag to be changed and for the flag to include four crowned eagles, one in each corner of the flag.  Each eagle stands on a cactus, which is on a rock in a lake, holding a snake in its mouth.

Mexico’s current national flag was approved by President Venustiano Carranza’s decree in 1916, officially adopted on September 16, 1968, and confirmed by law on February 24, 1984.  The current flag still includes the tricolor green, white, and red, but the eagle is no facing to the side instead of to the front.

The Mexican flag is rich in symbolism and history.  The green strip symbolizes the Independnce Movement of the early 19th century.  The white symbolizes the purity of the Catholic religion.  The red symbolizes both the blood of Mexico’s national heroes and recognizes the Spaniards that joined the Mexicans in the fight for independence.  The shield in the center of the white stripe includes an eagle eating a snake, standing on a prickly pear cactus that is on a rock in the middle of a lake.  This coat of arms has its roots in an Aztec legend: the Aztec gods told them to build their city where they found this exact scene.  The Aztecs followed this command and built their first city where Mexico City is today.

The Mexican Flag

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.

Mexican Flag

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.
Mexican Coat of ArmsAmong 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.

–Carol Frome