Las Escuelas del Centenario were constructed in 1921 in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Mexico, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain. The project brought immediate benefits to the children of Dolores Hidalgo, long considered Mexico’s historic “cradle of liberty,” and drew national attention to Mexicans from Texas who were mostly responsible for raising the necessary construction funds. This was accomplished through a public donation campaign, a popular form of financing public projects in the early twentieth century to meet community needs in Texas and Mexico.
The two schools—one for boys and another for girls—were built in the classical style common to U.S. schools of the early 1900s and named after two famous revolutionary figures—Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez. The schools were located two blocks from the legendary church where Hidalgo issued the famous Grito de Dolores (“cry of Dolores”), the call to arms that launched the Mexican War of Independence.
The Hidalgo school had seven fully-equipped classrooms that accommodated 364 boys in the first through sixth grades, as well as office space and a 200-seat auditorium that doubled as a dining hall and community meeting space. The Domínguez school offered thirteen equally furnished classrooms for 448 girls in all elementary grades and an office for the administration. The grounds also contained basketball and volleyball courts, a swing set, as well as educational and ornamental gardens. Together, the schools represented the highest capacity primary school complex in Mexico.
Ignacio E. Lozano, editor of the Spanish language daily La Prensa in San Antonio, initiated the transnational fundraising campaign on June 12, 1921, during the inauguration of a branch of the Comisión Honorífica Mexicana, a community organization from Seguín, Texas, formally associated with the Mexican Consul in San Antonio. Lozano’s newspaper led the solicitation effort with numerous articles that asked the Mexican readership to contribute to the worthy cause, as well as with frequent published reports that listed the hundreds of contributors (both individuals and organizations) from throughout Texas and northern Mexico.
The campaign officially ended in February 1922 and raised at least $36,000, most of which was secured by small individual donations of less than twenty-five cents and local fund-raising efforts like public dances, door-to-door solicitations, and contributions by organizations that, on occasion, donated as much as $500. Most of the construction materials and furniture were purchased in Texas and brought in by rail to Dolores Hidalgo. As a sign of his support for the project, Mexican President Álvaro Obregón agreed to waive customs duties and pay for all transportation costs. The ground-breaking ceremony at Dolores Hidalgo occurred on September 16, 1921, to coincide with the anniversary of the Grito de Dolores. Additional inauguration festivities were held between September 24 and 29, 1921, with the laying of the cornerstone on September 27, 1921, to commemorate the end of the Mexican War of Independence. Mexican political figures like José Vasconcelos, then the secretary of education in the administration of President Álvaro Obregón, along with other federal, state, and local officials (including Lozano, Alicia Elizondo de Lozano, and delegations representing the Mexican community in Texas) presided over the historic events. Construction was completed by November 1922, and Lozano returned to celebrate the opening of the schools in January 1923.
The campaign to build Las Escuelas del Centenario represented a significant moment in post-revolutionary Mexico. It gave voice to the “politics of longing” that was especially strong among the recent Mexican immigrants to the United States who were displaced by the chaos of the Mexican Revolution but remained emotionally and politically tied to circumstances in Mexico. The fund-raising efforts also represented the transnational reach of the Mexican community from the United States at a time when Mexico was beginning to reconstruct their war-ravaged country. The extraterritorial gaze to the South, “the beautiful patriotic gesture,” according to Lozano, also reminded Mexico that displaced Mexican Nationals, or “el México de Afuera” (“Mexico Abroad”), and U.S.-born Mexicans were still part of the larger Mexican family.