How Alamo mythology got the upper hand on its history and misled the Raccoon People
Published: April 18, 2012
The Battle of the Flowers began in 1891 when a small retinue of horse-drawn carriages and bicycles rambled to the Alamo. In imitation of European festivals of the time, San Antonio society ladies — members of the city's largely Anglo economic elite — threw flowers at each other in mock fight to honor the defenders of the Alamo and to commemorate the surprise victory at San Jacinto by Sam Houston's rebel forces over Santa Anna's army on April 21, 1836.
Since then, many other events — more than 100 mark this year's week-long event kicking off Thursday — have become part of Fiesta San Antonio, creating today's more racially representative celebration. The Battle of the Flowers is now the second largest parade in the country (after the Tournament of Roses Parade), but the early Fiesta organizations, like the Order of the Alamo with its queen, and the Texas Cavaliers' King Antonio, still exist with their respective courts. From the early days on, Fiesta has celebrated San Antonio's Spanish Colonial past in events like NIOSA (Night in Old San Antonio), where revelers often "play Mexican" by dressing up in imagined antique attire. During the first half-century of Fiesta, the city's affluent held the courts of glory. But as the city grew, neglected parts of the community demanded presence in the all-city festival. In 1947 El Rey Feo (The Ugly King), a representative of the "ugly common people," was created in 1947 by the civil-rights-minded League of United Latin American Citizens, while the San Antonio Charro Association's inaugural Charro Queen came to honor Mexican traditions of horsemanship. In 1949 Miss Fiesta was first crowned — not as a member of Fiesta royalty, but as a popular hero in an event modeled on the new beauty pageants. The Queen of Soul Pageant began in 1970 to give a Fiesta presence to the African-American community.
Within all this pageantry lies the story of the Alamo and the violent segregation of Texas from motherland Mexico. Fiesta organizers have, after initial hesitations, admitted new members to the official Fiesta roster. Today the varied Fiesta events exist like layers of strata in an archeological dig, marking the political changes of the eras when they began. But understanding of the Battle of the Alamo — the foundational myth of Fiesta — and its significance to the various peoples of our city has been less certain, falling victim to the shifting moods of national politics and the images of mass media. The crucial conflict lies not in the military episodes of the past, but in how we understand that history and who our understanding allows us to become.
"The revolution was not just in the state of Texas, there was revolution in several Mexican states at the time," Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson told the Current last week speaking of events leading up to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. "We've made this into a fight between those who have white skin and those with brown skin — and that's just horseshit."
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