Jose Luis Magana  /  AP
Mexican school children sing the country's national anthem before starting their classes Monday.
updated 9/15/2004 1:54:05 PM ET 2004-09-15T17:54:05

Offices came to a halt in Mexico City and even Mexican expatriates from as far away as Bahrain placed their hands on their hearts and belted out their national anthem in unison Wednesday, celebrating 150 years of the song.

The international call to song came at 12 p.m. Mexican time (1 p.m. EDT). But some got a head start. In Brussels and Rome, the Mexican embassies honored the anthem around midday local time, several hours before Mexico City.

Office workers in the capital drifted to windows overlooking Mexico’s Independence Angel Monument and filtered out to the street where a brass band played a special rendition of the anthem.

The worldwide sing-along was promoted by a nonprofit media council and endorsed by the government. It called on Mexicans to stop what they were doing at the appointed hour and sing the national anthem, which starts with these bold words: “Mexicans, at the cry of battle prepare your swords and bridle; and let the earth tremble at its center at the roar of the cannon.”

The spontaneous collective singing drew puzzled looks from passing drivers who apparently had not noticed the weeklong national campaign calling on Mexicans to participate.

In the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, restaurant chef Romaldo Martinez, 45, of Acapulco, was too busy to join in the worldwide rendition. So he sang in Spanish, “all that I can remember” of the anthem while preparing a special Independence Day menu at the busy Casa Mexicana restaurant.

“I am happy, and I wish I was home right now,” Martinez said.

A break from day-to-day
The international call to song came as the country kicks off its annual Independence Day celebrations, and tries to mend social and political divisions that have prompted even the president himself to call for unity.

“Mexico’s destiny depends today on unity, of the joining of wills to triumph in these battles and create a complete, just and inclusive country,” President Vicente Fox said Tuesday during a ceremony at the National Palace.

Mexicans in general are culturally famous for their politeness. But many have become openly vocal about their anger over Fox’s perceived shortfalls, crime and poverty, joining angry marches and calling for an end to corruption.

While they elected Fox in 2000, ending 71 years of rule by the once all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party, some have also questioned the bickering and political infighting of Mexico’s newfound democracy.

Politicians have recognized this and responded, compromising to come up with legislation in the divided Congress and promising to work together. Even Fox dedicated much of his upbeat state-of-the-nation address Sept. 1 to touting democracy and compromise.

Unknown poet wrote anthem
The idea was to celebrate the anthem, written 150 years ago by an unknown, 30-year-old Mexican poet. In some ways, though, Mexico finds itself in a similar situation as it did at the anthem’s start.

The song was chosen during a national contest that the government then hoped would unite a country defeated and divided, in part by the loss of half of its territory to the United States in 1848.

“It’s undeniable that when our hymn was composed, the country was suffering indescribable distress and difficulties,” historian Javier Garciadiego said during Tuesday’s National Palace ceremony, adding: “It is a hymn that summons national reconciliation, and condemns discord and internal struggles.”

The anthem itself isn’t without controversy. Several years back, there were reports that rights to at least part of the song are owned by a U.S. company.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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