Forget the Alamo reveals a Texas story made of myths, or rather lies
As a former Texas public school student, much of what I remember from the Texas history class comes down to this: General López de Santa Anna of Mexico was evil incarnate – my old friends and I still marvel at how hard this was hammered into our heads – and the Texas Revolution was a fight for freedom against the tyrannical Mexican government. The Battle of the Alamo, where Texan fighters resisted for 13 days and then were slaughtered by Mexican forces, has long been a central part of this story. Every Texan was asked to “remember the Alamo.”
It doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill creating “Project 1836,” designed to “promote patriotic education” about the year Texas seceded from Mexico. In other words, the law will create a committee to ensure that educational material centered on “Texas values” is provided to state landmarks and promoted in schools. This follows the “Critical Race Theory” bill passed by the Legislature, which would restrict how teachers can discuss current affairs and teach history. The American Historical Association called the bill “whitewashing American history,” saying, “Its apparent goals are to intimidate teachers and stifle independent research and critical thinking among students.”
Nonetheless, a new book co-authored by three Texan writers, Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, urges us to reconsider the Alamo, a symbol we’ve come to remember fiercely and uncritically. The authors are aware that their book sounds like profanation. Starting with the cover of Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, Released this week from Penguin Press, the authors look at associations of degradation with the title scribbled in what looks like red spray paint on an image from the old mission.
Written for a popular audience, the book challenges what the authors call the “Anglo-heroic narrative”. The traditional story, which Texas public schools are still required to teach, glorifies the nearly 200 men who came to fight in an insurgency against Mexico in 1836. The devastation at the Alamo turned these men into martyrs leaving behind them the prevailing story that they died for freedom and justice. Yet the authors of Forget the Alamo argue that the whole Texas revolt – “which wasn’t really a revolt at all” – had more to do with protecting slavery against the abolitionist government of Mexico. As they explain, and as Chicano writers, activists, and communities have long agreed, the events that occurred at the Alamo have been mythologized and used to demonize Mexicans throughout Texas history and obscure the role of slavery.
Taking a full look at how the Alamo myth was shaped, Burrough, Tomlinson, and Stanford paint a picture of the racism of American slave owners as it made its way through Texas. In their stories from those early days, they dissect the holy trinity facade of Alamo characters: Jim Bowie, William Barret Travis and Davy Crockett. All three died at the Alamo and their last names are remembered in schools, streets, buildings and even entire counties. They don’t fire any punches describing Bowie as a “murderer, slaveholder and con man”; Travis as “a pompous and racist agitator; And Crockett as an “old fool promoting himself.”
In the nearly 200 years since the battle, we learn how the false stories were reinforced by patriotic white scholars and zealous lawmakers, including the ‘Second Battle of Alamo’, when a teacher from Tejana s ‘is beaten to preserve a significant area of the compound. Ultimately, it was silenced by San Antonio’s wealthy white elite who instead sought to turn it into a flashy park, and the authors suggest that this moment “represented the victory of the creation of myths over it. ‘historical accuracy’.
In the early 20th century, critical studies of the Alamo were rarely taken seriously, although Latinx writers of the 1920s and Chicano activists of the 1960s wrote their own accounts of Tejano’s history. From the middle of the century, Hollywood reinforced deeply conservative folklore through mass entertainment: in 1948, Walt Disney, tired of leftist unions, produced a television series on Davy Crockett to encourage “traditional” American values. like patriotism. , courage, self-sufficiency and individual freedom, write the authors. John Wayne, a rabid anti-Communist, had similar motivations behind his vision for the film Alamo, in 1960. Intended to draw parallels with the Soviet Union, Wayne’s characterization of Santa Anna was intended to portray “a bloodthirsty dictator trying to crush good men fighting for self-determination.”
Burrough, Tomlinson, and Stanford are all white writers, which begs questions. Will this book benefit from the attention and legitimacy that the related works of non-white authors have not had? Probably, but it shouldn’t. The authors are transparent that they are far from the first to present an alternative to the “Anglo-heroic narrative” and cite the Latinx scholarship and outlook throughout. “We trace its roots back to the oral traditions of the Mexican-American community, elements of which have long regarded the Alamo as a symbol of Anglo oppression,” they wrote early on. They devote several sections to the Mexican-American experience of the Alamo myth, highlighting how prevalent it is in the Latin American community to feel shame and harassment in classrooms for being associated with the ” bloody dictator “Santa Anna and being” the bad guys “. ”
The book is aimed at white readers and people who have never heard of these alternate narratives before, which leads to a slightly more subdued tone, and despite their vigorous criticism, the authors appear to be at odds over whether to charge l Texas history as a whole. There is still so much to discover about early Texas, especially for Native Americans, whose history they rarely delve into: the history of the Alamo before 1800 – it was built in 1718 by Spanish missionaries to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity – is reduced to about a page. Yes Forget the Alamo becomes a definitive text of revisionist Texas history, there is a serious question whether non-white writers, activists, and academics will ever get their due. There’s also the question of whether the truth they’ve been voicing for generations will prevail: When will it finally be okay on the Texas History Stock Exchange to call the whole foundation rotten?
Yet the book provides strong and provocative critiques of US imperialism and colonialism. The authors point out that even before Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, US presidents and Washington insiders were invested – and participated – in destabilizing the region in hopes of annexing possibly Texas. Forget the Alamo also turns to LBJ, who once said, “Hell, Vietnam is like the Alamo”, and suggests that the patriotic and pioneering myth of the Alamo was used to support justifications for war across the world and until today.
The myth of the Alamo, as we know it, is a lie. This is part of the lie that students learned in school and animates the lies spread by laws like Bill 1836 and the Critical Racial Theory Bill. But if you really want to remember the past, you have to forget about it first.
This article was originally published by the Texas Watcher, a non-profit investigative media.
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