How Alamo mythology got the upper hand on its history and misled the Raccoon People
Published: April 18, 2012
Another artist who has attempted reconciliation, or as he prefers, "cultural adjustment," with the Alamo is Rolando Briseño. For the last two years on June 13, the Feast Day of Saint Anthony, Briseño and friends have enacted a ritual in front of the Alamo. Mixing a blessing of the four directions that recalls indigenous ritual with a Catholic folk practice that places statues of Saint Anthony of Padua upside down to try to coerce the saint to grant favors, a group of four actors representing Alamo participants parade a statue of St. Anthony about the plaza, then spin the figure while song and blessings are recited. In anticipation of a full-fledged festival, lowriders parade on the streets surrounding the plaza.
Briseño's hope is that the Alamo story will be expanded to include all the peoples and times of Mission San Antonio de Valero — not just the famous 13 days of siege and the brief battle of 1836.
As Fiesta events begin to take over the city, blocking streets and eating up rare parking spots, no doubt many less-festive souls will just want the days of celebration to soon be over. Performance artist Jimmy James Canales takes on the tourist scene with his character Mapache Man. "You may have noticed," Canales told me last summer, "that if an artist in San Antonio wants his piece to sound cool, he just translates the title into Spanish." Mapache is Spanish for raccoon. Rather than denounce Davy Crockett's famous hat, Canales celebrates the coonskin in a new myth that tells of Crockett's hat being swept away after the battle and magically transforming into a totemic character. As Mapache Man, Canales cloaks himself in ring-tailed fake-fur hats purchased from tourist stores along the River Walk and Alamo Plaza. Then he plunges into the crowd, dancing and running like mad along the River Walk, Mapache Man is with his true people — the tourists of San Antonio.
The Texas General Land Office wasn't given authority over the Alamo simply to adjust historical presentation. Improvements in historical accuracy are coming, said Patterson, "from within the DRT itself." It was rather concerns for the ability of the financially challenged DRT to maintain the integrity of the remaining old buildings on the site, especially the failing roof of the Alamo church, that led to the change. According to Patterson, the Land Office is well suited to take on the responsibility, having a full complement of construction experts and legal expertise at its command. The last is notable, given the city's recent interest in changing the configuration of Alamo Plaza to include less wheeled traffic and more pedestrian space.
This May, voters will decide a city bond that includes funds to implement changes at Alamo Plaza that include building a marker to locate the old main gate of the Alamo compound, and may turn over management of the plaza to a new nonprofit organization. There is more at stake than bond approval, however. The four sites of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, managed by the U.S. Parks Service, along with the Alamo, have been named as a candidate to join the UNESCO World Heritage list. On May 31-June 2, the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites will gather in San Antonio for their annual conference. During that time, historians, conservators, and curators will have an up-close opportunity to judge how our historical sites are being maintained. Will Alamo management pass muster?
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