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Remembering the Alamo

2009 January 24
by Julie Clawson

So last week when Mike’s parents were here for a visit we took them down to San Antonio to do the tourist thing. Which of course included the obligatory Alamo visit. Mike apparently was obsessed with Davy Crockett as a kid and even insisted on wearing his coonskin cap to school. So imitating the so-called “king of the wild frontier,” we stuck the kids in some faux-coon caps for the whole photo-op thing. But as the other adults went to tour the “remove hats, remain silent” mission, I took my loud and boisterous kids out to play in the gardens. But as I did so, I had to explain to an inquiring Emma what exactly the Alamo was and why we were there.

I grew up in Texas and so had required Texas history classes in both 4th and 7th grades. The hero stories of David Crockett’s, Jim Bowie’s, and my ancestor James Bonham’s last stand fighting for Texas “freedom” fed my childhood conception of the world. I wasn’t quite as enamoured as Mike was, but this is Texas and constant repetition and countless field trips make an impact. I recall even getting a talking to from my grandparents for not showing proper reverence and gratitude on one family Alamo excursion. So as much as I grew up with those stories, they are in truth stories that are 1. only true from a certain point of view and 2. that I don’t want Emma to be brainwashed with. Hence my attempt to explain to Emma the story of the Alamo sans hagiography from my own biased perspective. What emerged was more of a story of greed, land grabs, racism, power, and machismo than heroic last stand. Call it revisionist, call it true, I want her to learn more of the story than I ever did.

The best part though was after I set the historical stage and told Emma that all those people came to the Alamo to kill each other, she thought for a minute and then told me “I don’t want to be like those people.” I loved that. The heroes we worship as children often shape what we value as adults. While there are historical figures that I would encourage my daughter to emulate and respect, I’d rather her not be encouraged to admire men who steal and kill for their own vainglory (no matter how history has re-interpreted their acts). I’d rather her know that all heroes are flawed and that every story has more than one side. I doubt she’ll hear that in school. So if I want to teach her to love others and to treat them with respect, I need to make sure the heroes she is given to admire model those characteristics. But unfortunately most of the heroes from America’s cultural mythology fall rather short on that account. I don’t want to avoid exposing her to history – we still visit the sites, tell the stories, and stick her in coonskin caps – but let’s just say that we will have our own way of remembering the Alamo.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. January 25, 2009

    I don’t know much about the Alamo (I suppose i could find out on Wikipedia) by we have the Battle of Isandlwana that perhaps performs a similar function. We took our kids along to the centenary when they were quite young. And sat with friends, and our ancestors had fought on opposite sides. And we can look back on it today and see that neither side were angelic. It was messy, and with no clear moral right on either side — just like today’s wars.

  2. January 26, 2009

    Nice post, and I laud your efforts to cut through the muck of Americanized History.

    I’m busy right now wondering how I’ll be able to shield and/or explain to my son why his grandparents/greatgrandparents keep referring to his dad as a “stay-at-home mom.”

    Ever read the first Curious George book? Depressingly colonial. I change the words to make George sad to leave his family and culture. My wife thinks I’m a little sick. :)

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