Module introduction and overview:
This module discusses the erasure of Native American history within spaces such as The Alamo. In 1718, Franciscan Missionaries established Mission San Antonio de Valero in what is now San Antonio, Texas. The purpose of the mission was to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Built by Native American labor, it was the first of the mission complex along the San Antonio River and now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although over two million visitors come to Mission San Antonio de Valero every year, few would even know it by that name, as the primary historical focus of the site today is on the period of the Texas Revolution when Texan soldiers defended “The Alamo” against the Mexican army.
After reviewing this module, students will be able to:
- Discuss Native American contributions to the history of Mission San Antonio de Valero
- Discuss how historic erasure has impacted Native Americans in their representation (or lack thereof) in U.S. history
- Discuss ways in why archaeologists and historians can advocate for a more inclusive history and why that is important Native Americans.
Within the grounds of The Alamo in San Antonio, visitors can see monuments, artifacts, statues, didactic panels and take tours of the grounds. Although the Alamo was once part of a Spanish mission dating to the 1700s, today there is virtually no mention of this history, despite being one of the five missions recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site that emphasizes mission history of San Antonio. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1466/ Instead, the history is focused almost exclusively on the 1836 battle, which has been raised in the consciousness of white Americans through Walt Disney, John Wayne, and numerous documentaries that tell the tale of white heroic figures such as Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie.
Connections to grant goals:
This module draws on the participation of staff from the Alamo (Mr. Chris De Leon), staff from American Indians of Texas of the Colonial Missions (Mr. Rudy De la Cruz, Director of the Texas Heritage Project), as well as three elders of the Tap-Pilam tribe, Mr. Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez, Mr. Ray Hernandez, and Mr. Mickey Killian. We weave together their narratives to discuss how Native Americans have been left out of U.S. history within mainstream representation, why this is harmful, how Native peoples contributed at Mission San Antonio de Valero/The Alamo, and how archaeologists can work as advocates for a more inclusive history. this module supports grant goal 1 (fostering collaboration that intentionally diversifies the perspectives and experiences of the grantees) and goal 2 (providing students with an inclusive introduction to archaeological theory and practice).
In this module, students will learn about the ways in which archaeological history can exclude marginalized populations, particularly when the colonizer is the one telling the story. Through the video, students will have a chance to hear the perspective of Native American history at the Alamo that extends the narrative back to the 1700s and talks about the importance of expanding the history to include other stories. Specifically, we hope that they will recognize that this is not pitting histories against each other or elevating one history over another – but rather telling a broader story that allows a wider audience to see themselves within the narrative.
The video module is a single 24-minute video that includes interviews with the following:
1) Interviews with Tap-Pilam Tribal elders, Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez, Mr. Mickey Killian, and Mr. Ray Hernandez, the three most senior Tribal Elders of the Tap-Pilam Tribe and are direct descendants of the founders of the Mission San Antonio de Valero. All of them have been active contributors to maintaining family histories and raising awareness about the contributions of Native Americans to the history of San Antonio, Texas.
2) Interview with staff from the Alamo. Mr. Chris De Leon is a student at Texas A&M in San Antonio, as well as an employee at The Alamo, where he conducts tours of the grounds for visitors. He is also of Indigenous descent, and serves as an Intern for American Indians in Texas of the Colonial Missions. He thus has a unique perspective about the way in which the history of the Alamo is presented to the general public.
3) Interview with the Director of the Texas Heritage Project, American Indians at the Spanish Colonial Missions, Mr. Rudy De La Cruz, MPA and M.A. of Political Science. In his role as Director of the Texas Heritage Project, Mr. De la Cruz’s mission is to “reverse systematic historical erasure of Indigenous and Chicano people by expanding the narrative of South Central Texas through primary research. . . “
a. Learning objectives: the video introduces key terms (erasure, inclusive history, decolonization) from Objective 1. The video also focuses on Objective 2 by explaining how archaeologists address more inclusive narrative about the past, why it is important to do so, and how it plays out in a case study.
b. Possible discussion questions/analysis activity:
i. At the Alamo, how are Native American contributions represented in the textual panels and guided tours? What do we mean when we say Native Americans have faced historical “erasure” in their representation in U.S. history?
ii. Based on the interviews you watched, what have you learned about Indigenous contributions to Mission San Antonio de Valero?
iii. What is “decolonization”? What role can contemporary archaeologists and historians play in providing a more inclusive history of the Alamo?
iv. What are the benefits of a more inclusive history?
c. Links to organizations mentioned in the video:
- American Indians at the Spanish Colonial Missions: https://aitscm.org/
- The Texas Heritage Project: https://aitscm.org/texas-heritage-project/
- Mission San Antonio de Valero: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/travelspanishmissions/mission-san-antonio-de-valero-the-alamo.htm
Burial Ground Under the Alamo Stirs a Texas Feud – The New York Times
“Burial Ground Under Alamo Stirs a Texas Feud”, Simon Romero, November 21, 2021, The New York Times.
This New York Times article provides a wider background on the tension with Native Americans and the Alamo site regarding the protection of Native American human remains buried within the Alamo grounds. The article actually cited Ray Hernandez, one of the Tap Pilam elders that we interviewed for our module video. Although tangential to the focus of the module, it further exemplifies the way in which Native Americans have been marginalized within sites of contested history.