Banks, government offices, schools and some stores are closed Monday as Mexico remembers a reformer dedicated to democracy and the country’s independence.
Born on March 21, 1806, Benito Juárez also campaigned for equal rights for indigenous people and fought to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church in politics.
The Zapotec Amerindian became the 26th president of Mexico, holding office from 1858 until 1872.
Juárez lived during one of the most tumultuous periods of Mexican history, known as “La Reforma” (the reform), and marked a political and social revolution with major constitutional consequences.
Murals and statues honoring Juárez abound and his life story continues to inspire. He was of humble origins, but he became a well-educated urban professional and politician. Historians today consider him a brilliant, pragmatic and ruthless politician.
He weathered the French invasion of 1862–67, which was supported by Mexican Conservatives. Forced into exile in areas of Mexico not controlled by the French, Juárez maintained that he was the legitimate head of of Mexican rather than Emperor Maximilian. When the French-backed Second Mexican Empire fell in 1867, the Mexican Republic with Juárez as president was restored to full power.
His success in ousting the European incursion is why he is now considered a preeminent symbol of Mexican nationalism and resistance to foreign intervention.
His birthday, which is actually a few days away on March 21, is the only national holiday that honors an individual Mexican.