Should we remember the Alamo and just forget the myths?

National legends are a powerful confection
The mission gate and lunette project is underway and will expand the Alamo site's footprint (and deepen the glorious story that's told about the Battle of the Alamo. All photos: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Miguel, a guide at the Alamo

In their 2021 book, Forget the Alamo, three Texan writers challenge the legend of the Alamo.

They say that it overlooks the reality of why people in Texas were determined to resist Mexican rule. It was to ensure the preservation of slavery, they say.

All those cotton farmers who had come from America and been resettled in Texas by Stephen F Austin (the “father of Texas”) wanted to work their land and get rich and they knew no other way to do so than by slave labour. But multi-racial Mexico had outlawed the enslavement of human beings and Texas saw no other option but to rise up and rid itself of its Mexican overlord.

The story told by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford is a lively one and in its own way, just as thrilling as the usual legend of the Alamo’s sacredness as a “shrine” to Texan liberty and the high-minded quest to be free. I’m reading the book right now.

Have a read of the interview America’s National Public Radio conducted with one of the authors of Forget the Alamo and it is clear that the real reason for the Texas uprising has been determinedly airbrushed out of history. As Bryan Burrough says, the real reasons have been ignored “because the state government of Texas, much as they’re doing now, has for 120, 130 years, made very clear to the University of Texas faculty and to the faculty of other state-funded universities that it only wants one type of Texas history taught … and that if you get outside those boundaries, you’re going to hear about it from the Legislature.”

He added that Mexican Americans were largely written out of Texas history because “it came from Anglo writers”. And the 1960 John Wayne movie The Alamo perpetuated myths about the “patriotic values”, “family values” and “American values” symbolised by the heroic battle of the Alamo.

Visiting the Alamo, we asked Miguel, one of the guides who told the glorious story of the siege of the Alamo and the birth of the independent Republic of Texas, what the site meant to him and others in Texas. “It’s about the fightback against tyranny, dictatorship. It’s the same thing that’s happening today with Ukraine fighting Putin, who like Santa Anna, wanted to erase Texians’ freedom, especially the authority given them by Mexico’s 1824 constitution,” he replied.

When we put it to him that keeping slavery intact was one of the motives of the fight against Mexico, Miguel was honest, transparent and understated. Yes, he admitted, that was definitely a factor.

Ah, but had we not already known that, a visit to the Alamo would not tell us the truth. Of such things are national myths made. Every country and culture has them. Legends are a powerful confection.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

Also read:

Glorious myths about the Alamo ‘sacred shine’ draw millions every year