Thursday, November 18, 2021

Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth

The Alamo has always been a curious place. It is a famous tourist attraction. The details of the events that happened there have always been a bit fuzzy. Davy Crockett and a bunch of Texans died there and then somehow Texas became independent. There has always seemed to be more "legend" around the Alamo than actual facts. Forget the Alamo does a great job of documenting all sides of the story, from the actual events to the history and legend that we understand.

Texas was once a fairly disregarded backwater of Spanish America. Once Mexico had achieved independence, they desired to have more people there to help "protect" against the native tribes. Americans were eager to fill the void. They discovered that it was a great place to grow cotton. However, cotton was labor intensive and needed to complete with slave-labor plantations in the deep south. Mexico had few slaves and had outlawed the practice. The Texans did some workarounds to appease the authorities, but they really wanted to have their slaves there. Eventually, more and more Anglo-Americans settled in Texas. They came regardless of legal restrictions and paid little heed to Mexican law. They soon declared their independence and took over the land for themselves. (Perhaps they do know their history well and thus want to prevent the Mexicans from doing what they did to Mexico.)

The Alamo was one of the skirmishes during the process. A number of Texans were bunkered up. Most of them were killed. A lot of Mexicans were killed also. The legend states that they all fought to the death. (Many may have attempted to surrender - and been killed.) As a battle at the start of a war, it was advantageous to use it as a rallying cry. This is how the legend of the Alamo first came into being.

The legend continued to grow over time. It gained more strength after world war 2. Movies and television shows used the Alamo as a rallying cry. Many of the key events that we "know" from the history are from these fictionalized narratives. These also emphasize the "white" vs. other. (In spite of there being non-anglo Texans defending the Alamo.) 

The story of the Alamo as a historic has also had its ups and downs. It was a Catholic mission at one time. It was used for military and religious purposes and a tourist draw. There have been many attempts to revitalize the area, some have succeeded in varry degrees. Ownership has passed from church to state and back a few times. The Daughters of Republic of Texas have controlled it for a while until the state took over. Various ethnicities can take claim to some parts of the Alamo history, including Native Americans, Mexicans. A nearby lunch counter is also important in the history of black desegregation. There are "understood" histories and "revisionist" histories. The real events and the legend share some parts, but also have plenty of differences.

No comments:

Post a Comment