Two centuries ago in Mexico a powerful advocate proposed New World freedoms and liberty as the answer to Old World tyranny. The voice came from an obscure Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and, issued on September 16, 1810, is remembered as the famous call for Mexican independence from Spain. Like Americans in the 1770s, Mexicans of the 1810s recognized that citizens no longer derive their laws and rights from divine or monarchical authority but from the people and the consent of the governed.

On this historic bicentennial of Hidalgo’s declaration, we join in the celebration of Mexico’s independence and freedom.

For Mexico’s citizens, this bicentennial moment provides an opportunity to renew their commitment to advance human freedom, individual liberty, and the pursuit of a democratic way of life. The Mexican people take justified pride in their successes over the last two centuries as they have become an increasingly middle-class country, a global economic player, and the world’s 13th largest economy. Mexican democracy is making great strides as it has moved beyond dictatorship and one-party democracy to a modern, competitive system. Active competition among political parties and an increasingly vocal civil society are transforming Mexico’s political life.

And yet Mexico in 2010 finds itself confronting difficult challenges: providing economic growth and opportunity for all; the outflow of youth and talent to the U.S.; transnational crime and increasing violence; weak and frequently corrupt institutions. These are not criticisms but recognitions of the serious challenges that lie ahead for Mexico.

For our country, Mexico’s bicentennial is an opportunity to recognize that Mexico’s roughly 200 years as a sovereign state and its desire to defend its national identity against outsiders—be they Spanish, French, or Americans—are facts of history. It is a moment to reflect on the complex but not always happy nature of relations between our two great countries. It is a also moment  to remind ourselves that Mexico is a proud, sovereign nation with traditions, beliefs, aspirations, and challenges we sometimes ignore, at our peril.

When the rebellious Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued his cry for Mexican freedom, he could not possibly know where his action would lead. Yet, he spoke in a Patrick Henry-like moment of the necessity of choosing freedom over tyranny, of demanding liberty or accepting extinction.

It is the restless desire to battle the tyranny of bad governments begun with Hidalgo and continuing for 200 years that unites citizens on both sides of Rio Grande.