I love Texas; San Antonio, the cultural mix, the landscape, the word y’all. What I’m not as fond of are the the classic whitewashed Alamo stories. A triad of white men are hailed as the heroes; Bowie, Travis and Crockett. Contributions by Tejanos (people of Spanish or Mexican descent) and African Americans are mentioned rarely if ever. A new book on my to-read list called Forget the Alamo changes that. I’ve looked at summaries and the authors make good points about Texas myth building. They bring into focus the forgotten diversity of the soldiers inside the Alamo and the reasons they chose to fight to become independent from Mexico.
Why did the war for Texas independence begin? Was it to escape the poor administration of Santa Anna’s government or was it in order to secure the rights to hold slaves? Both? In Mexico, slavery was illegal. For a time, Anglo settlers of Texas were allowed to keep enslaved African-Americans under an “indentured servant for 99 years” loophole. When Mexican law ruled that illegal by 1828, the Anglo immigrants, who used enslaved laborers to pick cotton, decided to fight. Odd, the National Park Service Alamo website doesn’t mention that or the following fact. Ironically, a large portion of the Anglo immigrants were not in Texas legally. Immigrants from the United States and abroad were allowed to be citizens of Mexico if they became Catholics and learned Spanish.
Of the almost 200 men who fought the famous battle, only 13 were Texans by birth (that includes the 11 of Mexican or Spanish descent), 41 were born in Europe, and over 130 were from the United States. I have not found a list of which foreigners among them had their immigration papers in order…
As for the Alamo structure, in 1718 the Spanish built it as Mission San Antonio de Valero. Then by 1793 it was a parish church. Soldiers were stationed there in the early 1800. The city of origin of the troops was Alamo de Parras in Mexico, which gave the building it’s nickname. The first battle of the Alamo was in 1835. The Mexicans were in the Alamo and the Texicans (pro-independence settlers and Texans by birth) attacked. In 1836, the roles were reversed, with the Texicans defending the Alamo. At least 11 men of Mexican descent, also known as Tejanos, fought at the Alamo. Most accounts put the number of African American men and women at 4 or 5, and all but one survived. Nearly 200 Texicans died that day, March 6, 1836. Hundreds of Santa Anna’s troops died as well. The women and children who were in the building “for safety” were spared with one or two exceptions.
The next sixty years were not kind to the building; it was not treated as an important piece of history. It was used for grain and hay storage, as a warehouse, a jail, a chapel, an army supply depot and Masonic lodge. We visited the Alamo when we lived in the Lone Star State. From our guide we learned the building almost didn’t survive into the modern age. The Alamo itself was not remembered until a group of women decided that its fate mattered. Adina De Zavala, granddaughter of Lorenzo De Zavala, an advisor to Texas independence leader Sam Houston, and her associates in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas were key in saving the building from destruction in 1908.
Movies and legend have popularized the Alamo. Two million people a year visit this temple of Texas history. Whether or not we believe the cause of Texas independence was just, the history is important to know. I look forward to learning new facts from Forget the Alamo.
Here it is, beautiful when it’s lit up at night like a shrine. ¡Olé! –Rebecca