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Friday, March 8, 2019

March 8, 2019: Remembering the Alamo: The Historic Site

[On March 6th, 1836 the Alamo, a San Antonio fort and part of the newly independent Texan Republic, fell to Mexican forces. That battle became a rallying cry for the remainder of the war between Texas and Mexico, and so this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of the ways the Alamo has been remembered. Leading up to a special weekend post on Tejano culture and legacies!]
On two significant problems with an understandable mission statement.
It seems that the Alamo historic site has had a difficult last few years, and that there are plans underway (or at least in proposal form) to change things for the better. I learned about those proposed plans from this Save the Alamo mission statement linked on the Alamo’s official website; because the Alamo is held and preserved by Texas’s General Land Office (in conjunction with the city of San Antonio), that statement was written by the state’s current Land Commissioner, none other than Jeb Bush’s oldest son George Prescott Bush. Bush makes a compelling case for why the Alamo’s current situation and environs aren’t suitable to its historic significance (seriously, check out the photo montage in the middle of the statement depicting the “carnival atmosphere that has become commonplace at the Alamo plaza”), and for what might be possible if folks come together to support, help fund, and contribute in other ways to the Save the Alamo campaign. Hard to argue with such historical, conservationist perspectives, goals, and missions.
Hard but not impossible, I should say, because I’m here to quibble with a couple of troubling and not at all minor aspects of Bush’s statement. One is captured in a single short paragraph: “No, the United Nations will never have any say in what we do or say at the Alamo. Ever.” Bush is responding to conspiracy theories about the UN “taking over” the historic site, theories that in part play into larger, decades-old conservative fears of UN takeovers of the US. And that’s the problem with this thread within Bush’s statement, which begins in the second paragraph (“You may have heard or read stories about the Alamo recently”) and continues throughout. It’s one thing to argue that local organizations and voices should direct the future for a site like the Alamo; that’s an understandable and sympathetic position to be sure. But the frame here is instead one of an outside (and overtly “foreign”) threat, thus implicitly (and even at times in the statement explicitly) aligning Bush et al with the Alamo’s besieged “Defenders” (capitalization Bush’s throughout the statement) and turning the Save the Alamo campaign into a battle within a war (and not just in the culture wars sense, although that too). That’s both an ironic and a gross frame for preserving a historic site like the Alamo.
My other main problem with Bush’s statement is less dramatic, and more a reflection of tendencies I’ve highlighted in most of my posts this week. Throughout the statement, Bush associates the Alamo’s Texas Republic soldiers with all of Texas history and identity, as when he writes in the opening paragraph, “Who we are as Texans started there and who we can be as Texans and Americans still lives there.” In the concluding paragraph he goes even further, adding, “The Alamo defines Texas. There is no greater honor than to reinforce this place and tell its story. Its story is the story of Texas.” Since this was the first battle in Texas’s move toward independence from Mexico, I get part of what Bush is arguing in such moments, although of course the Texas Republic only last for 9 years before Texas became part of another nation, the U.S. Moreover, in each of these stages—as a Mexican territory, as the Texas Republic, and as a state within the expanding U.S.—Texas included at least as many Mexican American inhabitants as Anglo ones, and that remains the case to this day (in South Texas most especially). So the Alamo’s story is only “the story of Texas” if we make sure to include the attackers alongside the defenders, something that Bush’s statement certainly does not suggest. Which is to say, the contest over collective memories of the Alamo continues to this day.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think?

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