Soldiers, pioneers, and missionaries figure prominently in History and Legends of the Alamo and Other Missions in and around San Antonio, a collection of historical and mythic folklore about the fall of the Alamo. In Adina de Zavala's book, history and folklore are intertwined with the writer's passionate need to restore the multicultural history of Texas. Thus History and Legends becomes a study in storytelling as history and a romantic call to action and restoration.
The book is full of accounts, lists, maps, poems, and documents which portray the Hispanic and multicultural heritage of those who built, fought for, and died at the Alamo. This research would almost, but not entirely, confuse the reader if it weren't for the helpful introduction by the book's editor, Richard Flores. Anyone who has ever read historical books will understand that the skill and style of historians depend on the historian's culture and personality and on the literary standards of a given time. Adina de Zavala is a dedicated researcher. In the first part of the book, the section dedicated to the history of the Alamo, names, documents, lists, letters and associations rush past the reader with such speed that one spends a great deal of time re-reading and back-tracking. This is hard work. De Zavala writes to a readership who knows something about the Alamo; she does not give an easy foundation from which to begin our foray into the question of the Alamo. For her purpose, she lays before the reader the names and minutia about every person or event that had anything to do with the Alamo. None of this is pointless, only disorganized. But with the help of the editor, we get an overview which shows us de Zavala's intentions of reclaiming her past.
Most Americans know the slogan, "Remember the Alamo." But they have only a vague idea of what it is they are supposed to be remembering. A victory? A defeat? Americans murdered by Mexicans? The notion of reclaiming the past began as far back as Josephus and his history, The Jewish Wars. Often, many minorities raise a questioning eyebrow to a "history" presented through the popular media or even through the "right" channels. But few have the time, passion or obsession to decide that the truth is to be pursued and history is to be righted. Adina de Zavala lived in a world which had forgotten how multicultural the Alamo really was. Blacks, Indians, Chinese, Tejanos, and Anglos all fought and died there. But the Anglo generations had claimed Texas's (and the Alamo's) history. Why did she write the book? Editor Richard Flores lays out all the facts. The power of the Anglos, de Zavala's legal victories, her cultural losses in her wars with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, her memory and family heritage, her ego, and her need for plain old honesty all come into play. The modern reader is reminded that history and historians should be judged, and that many of their insights and writings are colored by their own past.
The book gives a history of the Alamo from 1821, when political ideology, cultural alliances and power balances were all in a flux and every piece of land bought west of the United States and south of the Gulf of Mexico brought its own complication. It is in this world that Mexico gained its independence from Spain. It is in this world that Stephen Austin got permission to colonize a portion of the Mexican territory called Coahuila y Tejas. What inevitably followed was a migration of Anglos who did not consider the native Mexicans their equal. What also followed were tensions between the Anglo-Americans in Texas and the central government of Mexico's president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. This begat skirmishes which eventually led to Texas becoming one of the United States and forgetting its original heritage.
The first part of the book is intended to show the historical truth. But the latter part, the legends, are a spiritual and cultural call in which romance, religion, and myth are used to reclaim history. In Adina de Zavala's collection of legends, women and Tejanos walk through a less ribald, eerily holy supernatural world. The tales show excellent storytelling. And their heroes and come alive for the reader. De Zavala's fictionalization of history provides a kind of mythic call that is a good restorative to the soul-killing untruths and myths that one so often finds in history books written by the prevailing culture. Highly recommended.