How Alamo mythology got the upper hand on its history and misled the Raccoon People
Published: April 18, 2012
Children everywhere wanted coonskin caps like Davy's. In 1960, veteran actor and neophyte director John Wayne entered the fray with his movie, The Alamo. Playing Crockett, Wayne took on the Mexican army and died heroically. By 1964 Alamo war rhetoric had reached the White House. President Lyndon B. Johnson defended American military involvement in Southeast Asia saying, "Just like the Alamo, somebody damn well needed to go to their aid. Well, by God, I'm going to Vietnam's aid."
But there was push back and, foreshadowing later critiques of the Alamo's divisive power by Texan artists, it came in the form of humor. In 1969 the film Viva Max portrayed an Alamo story that was definitely revisionist. Starring Peter Ustinov and comedian Jonathan Winters, the story is played as farce, showing Max, a modern day Mexican general, briefly recapturing the Alamo to impress his girlfriend. It had some commercial success in the U.S., but the film was censured in Mexico.
While the Mexican-American community in SA made moves in the late 1940s to gain presence in Fiesta, cultural changes were brewing on the national level. By the mid-1960s the United Farm Workers were marching with César Chávez for fair wages, and the Chicano Movement was demanding equal rights for Latinos. Los Angeles and San Antonio were centers of activist activity.
In San Antonio, a group of artist/activists that included Mel Casas, Felipe Reyes, Rudy Trevino, and Cesar Martinez, among others, became known as Con Safo. Both Casas and Reyes used Alamo imagery in their paintings. In Reyes' 1971 painting Sacred Conflict, the UFW flag with its black eagle (the symbol for huelga, strike) flies over a typical view of the Alamo. Reyes described the Alamo in Ruben C. Cordova's 2009 book, Con Safo. "To the Anglos it represents what they call oppression by Mexican tyrants. But to the Chicanos the Alamo is the symbol of Anglo oppression." During the early '70s fellow Con Safo artist Martinez photographed another occurrence of the UFW eagle — stenciled on the cenotaph in Alamo Plaza that memorializes the Alamo defenders of 1836.
"For us it was a political thing," Martinez told the Current. "We were against the John Wayne version of history. ... I think that in recent years it has been straightened out, more emphasis has been given to Mexican accounts of the battle, so I am fairly satisfied."
Jesús Treviño told the Current he began his career "in the civil rights movement with a Super 8 camera on a picket line" before going on to direct mainstream TV. In 1981 he made Seguin for the PBS American Playhouse, based on Texas revolutionary Juan Seguin's memoirs. The feature tells the story of the Texas Revolution from a Latino perspective by tracing Seguin's life. The veteran of both the Alamo siege and the San Jacinto battle was named a collaborator after Santa Anna's troops briefly retook SA in 1842. His life and his family's threatened, Seguin stated in his memoirs that he was "forced to take refuge with my enemies" by escaping to Mexico, where he fought on the Mexican side during the Mexican-American War. Seguin was pardoned in 1848 and allowed to return to Texas.
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