How Alamo mythology got the upper hand on its history and misled the Raccoon People
Published: April 18, 2012
Treviño states that Seguin "is an emblem of the Mexican-American today: bilingual and bi-cultural. One of the prevalent myths is that it was all Caucasian settlers in the Alamo and Mexicans outside the walls," said Treviño. "Of course, there were Tejanos on both sides."
In 2004, Disney took on the Alamo again, with Billy Bob Thornton playing Davy Crockett. Famous as the second-biggest flop in recent film history, The Alamo's attempts at historical veracity were largely left on the cutting floor, and the usual polemics indulged. Poet, playwright, and Current contributor Gregg Barrios wrote in his review of the stinker this background info: "I remember one dark day when Davy Crockett mania swept our land that my brother came crying home to mother. 'They said we killed Davy Crockett.' Up until that morning, he had been proud of his 'coonskin cap and his Daisy toy rifle. Now, he was shattered in the realization that his Spanish surname and Mexican features had marked him for life as the son of the men who killed his hero. Later, serving in the military as a medic in Da Nang during the Vietnam War, I figured he had buried that shameful moment. Or maybe like so many young Tejanos, he hadn't."
By 1996 the 150th anniversary of the War with Mexico had arrived. Many civic battles had been won and a second era of identity politics was underway. Scholars on both sides of the border rushed to collaborate. "Part of the criticism [at that time] was that Texas history was just being taught from the viewpoint of Texas," Winders said. "It became clear that you have to look at the Mexican historical component, or you are missing the story."
Increasingly, artists have begun to complicate the narrative of conflict by subverting the Alamo story with humor rather than fighting it head-on. In 1995, Kathy Vargas made "My Alamo," a series of photo collages with text. At first glance, the ghostly white figure holding a broom seems to be enacting a limpia, or spiritual cleansing, of the Alamo. Not so, says Vargas. "My great, great, great grandfather was on the Mexican side. A lot of people who hadn't planned on being there at all ended up at the battle. Santa Anna picked up a lot of farmers and other people who were just minding their own business and conscripted them. All he was given to fight with was a broom. We say he swept up after the battle. He was an indigenous person as far as we can tell." How should the viewer read the work?
"With humor," says Vargas. "What we need to do is learn how to live our lives today. While the battle was a serious thing, and the history was a serious thing, at this point in time if you don't look at it with a sense of humor, you are going to do a lot of crying. I'm shaking off decades of bad feeling. Why are we still fighting the battle? It was bad for both sides."
Other Latino artists have chosen to try to heal the history of conflict by focusing outside the 13-day siege and battle timeline. During Luminaria 2009, the city's big annual night-time art fest, Laura Varela and German artist Vaago Weiland collaborated in an installation that recalled indigenous peoples' place in local history. Miniature tents were set in front of the Alamo and faces of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans with "indigenous features," recalling the native peoples who built and lived in San Antonio de Valero, were projected on the top of the Alamo church. Other artists have denied the battle's definitive power. The next year, Remember El Alma, commissioned by Bihl House Arts for Luminaria 2010, was choreographed by Yale Drama Award-winning playwright Vicki Grise to a poem by Barbara Renaud Gonzalez. During the ritualized performance, a procession of women in white moved from HemisFair Park to Alamo Plaza, where after a number of gestures, song and verses were recited and the 60 massed women let out "a silent scream." Explained Grise: "There is always this narrative of what the Alamo represents that's a very polarizing mythology about Mexicans and Anglos. I think any way that it is rewritten, like, 'My great grandfather, he fought at the Alamo, too' — it's all about war. Claiming our participation doesn't make it any less a war."
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