Buying Into the Alamo

What’s the big deal with the Alamo? Walking through the “shrine” and museum on Thursday was interesting enough, but I found myself puzzled at the depth of feeling this small site seemed to arouse in the dominant Texas psyche. A handful of men died in a failed attempt to hold the old mission, and…? I felt like I was missing something. So yesterday I went back.

When I entered the gift shop, it all started to make sense.

Playing in the corner was a trailer for Alamo: The Price of Freedom, an IMAX movie which reenacts the battle of the “heroic commander” against the “arrogant dictator.” In case, like me, you are not familiar with the dominant narrative of the Alamo, this trailer is a helpful overview. (Mexican Texans who supported the rebellion, only to be killed and robbed of their lands by their Anglo “countrymen” are unsurprisingly absent.) You can certainly buy pretty much anything with “Remember the Alamo” on it. You can also buy replica guns, knives, and other “hero” gear, including, of course, toy guns and knives for the kids.

My favorite thing, though, was the fundraising brochure:

Alamo fundraising brochure

“When Travis called for reinforcements, you were who he had in mind.” That was it: “buying” the Alamo is creating identity. Not only does visiting the Alamo rehearse the dominant narrative of Texas independence, it sells the opportunity to become part of the narrative. By revering the “shrine,” and by literally “buying into” the heroism of the Alamo defenders, people not only justify the past, but use the past to build an identity. Specifically, the Alamo reinforces an identity that glorifies violence, rebellion, and, of course, the victory of “freedom-loving” Anglo Texans over “tyrannical” Mexicans.

I’m from Seattle: I didn’t grow up with the narrative of the heroic Alamo defense. But Washington is, of course, another border. Now I wonder: what other one-sided narratives of history I have been sold, and what I have bought  into?