Remember the Alamo! Remember to Bring a Raincoat!

In Sina's Posts, Trips on May 13, 2012 by SN

San Antonio is the most Mexican city on my journey so far. It is close to the Mexican border, it has a predominantly Hispanic population, Mexican-inspired architecture, and many Spanish names of streets, restaurants, and places. Visiting San Antonio reminds me a lot of my 2002 trip to Mexico. I even speak my rudimentary 10 words of Spanish with bus drivers or service personnel. San Antonio is therefore the right spot to learn more about Texan history, especially the complex and conflicting history with Mexico.

My first visit lead me to the Alamo, the most mythical place in the Big TX. The former missionary was the setting of the historic and bloody Battle of the Alamo in 1836 where Texan troops under the supervision of general William B. Travis defeated the Mexican troops lead by general Santa Anna. The significance of this battle lies in the fact that this defeat laid the ground for Texas independence which culminated in the Republic of Texas from 1836-1845. Like the Statue of Liberty, the aura of the Alamo is bigger than the actual site. In fact, it is quite small, but the surrounding compound used to be bigger in the past.

Smaller Than Expected: The Alamo in Downtown San Antonio.

I toured the main area (the Shrine) and the Long Barracks which had an exhibit on the development of the Alamo from a Catholic missionary to battle ground to historic site. It was amazing to learn that Texas was under a total of six flags in its history:

  • Spanish: from 1519 to 1685 and from 1690 to 1821
  • French: from 1685 to 1690
  • Mexican: from 1821 to 1836
  • Republic of Texas: from 1836 to 1845
  • Confederate States: 1861 to 1865
  • United States: from 1845 to 1861, and from 1865 to today

This alone reveals the many struggles over power, language, identity, religion, and ideology and gives one answer as to why Texas is such a multi-faceted place. I knew of the Mexican American War (1846-1848) from my American Studies courses and I knew that Texas has a strong identity, but I did not know the long-standing and complex developments behind it. Visiting the Alamo enabled me to change the perspective not only on the United States as nation state, but on the various interconnections between Tejas and the different cultures to south of the border, to the American South, and to the American South West.

Unfortunately, my trip to the Alamo was cut short because of a severe thunderstorm. But it was enough to get a sense of the place and the myth surrounding it. Because of the severe weather in the morning I had to readjust my day. Instead of walking around downtown, I bought $4 (!) VIA day pass and went on and off the trolley.

The second major stop that day was the Institute of Texan Cultures organized by the University of Texas at San Antonio. The Institute displays the rich ethnic heritage of Texas and is divided into the different cultural and ethnic groups: The obvious ones are Native American, African American, Scottish, Irish, English, and Spanish.

ITC: The Native American Experience.

Tucked behind The Jewish Experience were the German, Hungarian, Czech, and even Wendish cultures.

ITC: The German Experience.

It would have been nice if the German exhibit would talk more about the German heritage today instead of presenting the 19th century Turnvereine, Musikinstrumente, or Schützenvereine. (Isn’t amazing how my experience as Assistant Professor of German at Oglethorpe University changes my perception of American culture? I am much more aware of and interested in the German heritage than I had ever been before.) There were also exhibits on less obvious ethnicities, such as Belgian, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Greek, or Lebanese.

ITC: The Lebanese Experience.

Strolling through the highly interesting exhibit, I got the impression that this institute worked against the notion of one-dimensional Republican White Anglo Saxon identity by showing the ethnic diversity of Texas and Texans. After visiting the ITC, I am blown away be the rich and complex history and heritage of Texas!


2 Responses to “Remember the Alamo! Remember to Bring a Raincoat!”

  1. […] like the Statue of Liberty, the Alamo, or Graceland, the Southfork Ranch is much smaller than expected. The tour of the compound took […]

  2. […] The desert city is certainly a lot different from the Metroplex Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, but also San Antonio. “Western Landscape”: Franklin […]

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