Mike Kueber's Blog

October 21, 2014

Columbus Day

Filed under: History — Mike Kueber @ 9:30 pm
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Columbus Day came and went last week without much fanfare. Except on Facebook. Several of my friends posted posters attacking the guy. Apparently, he was a racist, a bigot, and a rapist who treated the indigenous people as sub-human. But I’m not sure how many white people back in those days showed adequate respect to blacks, homosexuals, women, or indigenous people. Further, America is not honoring Columbus for his political or social values; rather, we are honoring him for being a courageous explorer who went were no man had gone before (except for the Vikings or the indigenous people).

I commented to one Facebook friend that after these critics get done crucifying Columbus, I suppose they will want to scrutinize our Alamo heroes, too. She warned me not to get her started on the racist, bigoted rapists at the Alamo.

September 1, 2014

A minority-affairs reporter in San Antonio

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 4:38 pm
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Today’s San Antonio Express-News contained a column on re-development of the Alamo penned by Elaine Ayala, a self-described Minority Affairs reporter.

In the context of San Antonio, you might wonder what minorities need a dedicated reporter to ensure that their issues aren’t overlooked. Although traditionally in America the overlooked minorities are blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, these groups already dominate San Antonio. Our recently departed Hispanic mayor was replaced by an African-American, and there are (or soon will be) seven Hispanics, one African-American, and one Asian, along with only two Anglos, on the City Council. Based on city demographics of 63% Hispanic, 7% black, 2% Asian, it appears that only the 27% Anglos are underrepresented on the City Council.

Not surprisingly, the Alamo column by Elaine Ayala objected to the current depiction of the Alamo defenders as heroes and suggested a fairer development of the Alamo not only should take the luster off the heroes, but also should shift attention toward Tejano contributions to the development of Texas. Also not surprisingly, I could not restrain myself from firing off the following angry critique (which I subsequently had to edit due to the paper’s character limit):

This is the type of column to expect from a Minority Affairs reporter and a Latino Life blogger. Life is a series of grievances.

As the city considers ways to upgrade the Alamo, Elaine Ayala suggests that, “Anglo defenders and their motivations have been mythologized. At the same time, new cadres of Latino academics have begun to shed new light on them.” I hope those “Latino academics” don’t have as much of a political agenda as Elaine appears to have.

So, according to Ayala, we upgrade the Alamo by pointing out that some of the defenders were not as purely heroic as history has depicted them? While correcting the inaccurate history of heroic Alamo defenders, Ayala suggests that we shed some light on Tejano contributions to state development, and even on the fact that the Alamo was near Indian burial grounds. (I’m not making this up.)

There can be only one “entry point” to the story of the Alamo – i.e., those 13 days in 1836. People who travel to the Baseball Hall of Fame want to learn about the legends; they don’t want to learn about the tawdry details of the players’ lives. People who travel to Gettysburg want to learn about the crucial Civil War battle; they don’t want to learn about the “rich history” of this Pennsylvania town.

Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg are something that are applicable for the Alamo Plaza committee and ultimately the City Council to recall:

  • We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

January 31, 2011

America’s unmatched military capability

This weekend, I was thinking about President Obama’s description of American exceptionalism to include the world’s largest economy and our unmatched military capability.  Although his use of those superlatives doesn’t really get at the essence of American exceptionalism, he also noted that Americans rightfully took great pride in America’s critical role in WWII.  (I don’t know why he didn’t proudly claim that his grandfather marched with Patton across Europe.) 

WWII was one of America’s defining moments, when we were the only thing that stood between liberty and world-wide totalitarianism.  As Tom Brokaw accurately said, that was America’s greatest generation.  But there is another military moment that is almost as momentous in the American mind – and it has nothing to do with unmatched military might.  In 1836, 180-odd Texans died heroically while unsuccessfully defending the Alamo.  While some of the details of that defense are debated to this day, there is no question that the legend of Alamo heroism resonates with Americans.  That legend symbolizes a lot of what is now called American exceptionalism.  

As Gerald O’Hara said in Gone with the Wind, these are values worth fighting for and worth dying for.

September 3, 2010

Beyond the Alamo – a book review

My discovery of Beyond the Alamo seemed like a godsend when I was trying to determine whether the defenders of the Alamo were a bunch of criminal mercenaries, as alleged by our mayor’s mother and others.  Although the book didn’t directly answer my question, it provided much useful information and, more importantly, provided more context to my appreciation of why some Mexican-Americans do not revere the heroes of the Alamo. 

Subtitled Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861, Beyond the Alamo was written by Raul A. Ramos, an assistant professor at the University of Houston, and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2008.  The thing that most impressed me about Beyond the Alamo was that Ramos wrote the story without a strongly slanted political view.  He described people realistically instead of stereotyping them as heroes, villains, or victims.  This reminded me of my philosophy professor in college teaching us about “historical Jesus.”  He laid out a generous portion of facts and his conclusions were narrowly drawn and explicitly described.  Ramos is my kind of historian.  

The book starts in 1821 because that is when Mexico gained independence from Spain.  At that time, the city was called Bexar, and it didn’t take on the name San Antonio until Texas won its independence in 1836.  According to a Spanish census in 1820, Bexar had almost 1,600 residents, with 58% Spanish, 20% mestizo (Spanish/Indian), 15% Indian, 6% other (Negro, mulatto, or Euro), and no Anglo-Americans.  Despite the sparse population in Bexar, it was by far the most populated city in Texas.  The Spanish government counted 2,000 residents in the entire state, and because it was unable to convince adequate numbers of Mexicans to move to Texas, it decided to allow Anglo-American immigration.  

Anglo immigration started in 1821 when Mexico issued a land grant (called an empresario) to Stephen F. Austin in southeast Texas for 300 settlers, all of whom agreed to become Mexican citizens and Roman Catholics and learn Spanish.  The Austin grant had actually been initially issued by the Spanish government and was later ratified by the Mexican government after Mexico won its independence.  Between 1821 and 1828, thousands of Anglo-Americans immigrated to Texas under a number of empresarios like Stephen F. Austin.  But between 1828 and 1834, the Mexican government became concerned about excessive Anglo-American immigration and issued severe restrictions, including prohibitions on bringing in more slaves.  During those years, most immigration was technically illegal, although the Mexican government did very little to enforce its restrictions.  (One could say that immigration by Anglo-Americans post-1830 was like immigration by Mexicans a few years ago – i.e., lax enforcement with sanctuary cities.)

The Texas war with Mexico was precipitated in 1830 by the refusal of Texans to accept Santa Anna’s suspension of the Mexican constitution of 1824.  By 1835, however, Texas was no longer fighting to restore the Mexican constitution.  Instead, it was fighting for independence – i.e., to secede from Mexico.  Other than the Battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto, the most significant battle in the war was the siege of Bexar in 1835, during which the Army of Texas pushed the Mexican Army under Santa Anna’s brother-in-law Cos out of Bexar and sent them packing back to Mexico. 

The Army of Texas that laid siege on Bexar in 1835 consisted on 1,300 troops.  According to pension records, 80% percent of those troops had lived in Texas prior to the initiation of hostilities (with 50% from the Brazos area of several empresarios), but 33% had immigrated to Texas within five years, which might render them illegal immigrants.  About 10% of the troops engaged in the siege were Tejanos. 

Unfortunately, the author does not provide a similar description of the composition of the defenders of the Alamo, but he notes that after the successful siege of the Alamo, the composition shifted dramatically in terms of length of Texas residency, “with a marked increase of mercenaries and filibusters.”  Only five Tejanos died defending the Alamo because most were in a company under Juan Seguin on assignment in Gonzales.    

Regarding the comportment of the occupying Texans prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the author concluded:

“The initial occupation of Bexar made readjusting to life after the siege difficult for Bexarenos.  The ambiguous and chaotic leadership structure of the Texian army created a confusing governing system in town.  Many Anglo-Texan soldiers were mercenaries from the United States who had no home or family to go to in Texas.  Instead, they remained in Bexar at the command of charismatic captains.  Unlike the relative racial harmony practiced by long-time Anglo-Texan residents, these recent arrivals into Texas strained relations between Anglo-Americans and Bexarenos.  They lacked prior contact with Mexicans and brought with them negative stereotypical views.  As a result, the months between the fall of Bexar and the arrival of Santa Anna’s army in March proved unsettling and even dangerous for the local population of Bexar.”

Based on this passage, I think it is fair to conclude that there was not a lot of criminal behavior by the defenders of the Alamo.  If there was, the author would have certainly documented it because the principal focus of his book is on the dynamic relationship between Tejanos and Anglos in Bexar. 

The last section of Beyond the Alamo is focused on the time from Texas independence to the Civil War.  During that time, Tejanos were often disrespected and diminished because many Anglos questioned their loyalty.  Although most Tejanos did not participate in the war, the author points out that the same was true of Anglos – “Over the course of secession, a maximum of 3,685 out of about 40,000 Anglo-American immigrants fought in any battles.”

In conclusion, I think Beyond the Alamo does an excellent job in describing the Tejano perspective of the Anglo take-over, but I don’t think that take-over is a good reason for Mexican-Americans to begrudge the heroism of the Alamo defenders, who gave up their lives in defense of freedom against a despot.

August 13, 2010

Further thoughts on patriotism

America, love it or leave it.”  I remember that catch-phrase being thrown at people who were opposed to the Vietnam War.  Somehow it didn’t ring true to me then.  Just like the phrase from war-hero Stephen Decatur in 1820, “My country, right or wrong.”  Were Americans supposed to be blindly supportive of our country when it was going down the wrong track?  That was not my idea of civic virtue.

A few days ago, however, I received some critical comments from a reader who thought I should be more understanding of Hispanics who have negative thoughts about the Alamo.  In the course of multiple exchanges on my Facebook account, the reader referred me to an article that articulated why Anglos should not expect Hispanics to glorify the Alamo – http://revcom.us/a/1237/alamo.htm.  The article is titled, “Remember the Alamo? Hell NO,” by Travis Morales. 

According to the Morales, the Texas War for Independence was caused generally by American imperialism (northern capitalists and southern slave-owners) and was triggered by the decision in Mexico City to abolish slavery.  He claimed that the defenders of the Alamo were mercenaries (and alcoholics, rapists, and murderers) who had been enticed to Texas by the slave-owners with promises of free land:

  • I want to say that these mother fuckers Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Barrett Travis and all the rest got exactly what they deserved–death! They were a bunch of professional Indian killers, slave traders, and mercenaries who invaded Texas, and then stole it from México so it could be a slave state. And the war waged upon them by México was a just war!”
  • “But to honor the Alamo is to honor a U.S. war of plunder and conquest, the theft of almost one-half of México, and the ongoing oppression of the Chicano people. What is the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” except a battle cry to kill Mexicanos and Chicanos?”

After reading the article, I suggested to the reader that the author of the article seemed to hate America so thoroughly that “love it or leave it” might apply to him.  I did not make that comment lightly, but it did not make sense to me for a person to stay in America when he so clearly preferred Mexico.  The reader responded that a person shouldn’t have to leave America just because he is critical of important government policies, like slavery, imperialism, and exploitation.  When I pointed out that the author of article was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which wanted to destroy American as we know it, the reader responded that ad hominem comments don’t defeat the commie’s reasoning.

Which brings me back to the original question – can you be fundamentally ashamed of America’s past and present and still be patriotic?  First, we need to define patriotism. 

Dictionaries define patriotism as love and devotion to your country and willingness to sacrifice for it.  And they distinguish it from nationalism – patriotism is the ideal of social cohesion, humanitarianism, equality, and harmony within one’s own society, while nationalism is the struggle to put one’s own nation ahead of other nations, perceived as external rivals or threats. 

One survey that was comparing patriotism among countries asked a sample population, “Are you proud to be [insert nationality]?  America scored at the top; Germany scored at the bottom.  I think such a question measures nationalism more than patriotism.  I think a better standard for patriotism is a phrase from Kennedy’s Inaugural Address calling for patriotism – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” 

With that in mind, I feel compelled to concede that people who have grave misgivings about America’s past or present may still be patriots.  Such people might still want America to succeed and may be willing to sacrifice for America to achieve that success. 

As Benjamin Franklin said at the close of the constitutional convention to a woman who asked Franklin what type of government the Constitution was bringing into existence – “A republic, if you can keep it.”  Dissidents may be trying their civic best to keep our republic functioning effectively.  But not Travis Morales.  He doesn’t want to improve America; he wants to destroy it.

August 10, 2010

The Alamo and American exceptionalism – part II

I recently posted a blog entry titled “Remember the Alamo.”  https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/remember-the-alamo/.   In the post, I described my surprise to learn that some San Antonians didn’t think the defenders of the Alamo deserved all the glory that has been heaped on them.  These people were disparaging not only Texas’s greatest tourist attraction, but also one of the greatest symbols of liberty and bravery in all of America. 

Since posting the Alamo blog, I have received comments from a couple of individuals who suggested that Hispanic resentment toward the Alamo was understandable and reasonable.  From their perspective, the Alamo was a sign of American imperialism, and the Alamo defenders were lawless mercenaries attempting to make Texas safe for slavery.  A Facebook friend and former neighbor, Marshall Britt, provided me with the link to an article that documented many of these so-called facts – see  http://revcom.us/a/1237/alamo.htm.  Although the article makes fascinating reading, you might question the author’s credibility if you knew he was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, whose three main points are:

  1. The whole system we now live under is based on exploitation—here and all over the world. It is completely worthless and no basic change for the better can come about until this system is overthrown.
  2. Many different groups will protest and rebel against things this system does, and these protests and rebellions should be supported and strengthened. Yet it is only those with nothing to lose but their chains who can be the backbone of a struggle to actually overthrow this system and create a new system that will put an end to exploitation and help pave the way to a whole new world.
  3. Such a revolutionary struggle is possible. There is a political Party that can lead such a struggle, a political Party that speaks and acts for those with nothing to lose but their chains: The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

If you go to my Facebook account, you can read my lengthy exchange with Marshall.  Unfortunately, our discussion did not lead us to any common ground, and we each ended up thinking the other was irretrievably lost.  The chasm between our thinking is unbridgeable because Marshall thinks America has a sordid history that we need to overcome while I think America has been a “city on a hill” for the rest of the world.

The “city on a hill” descriptor of America has been used throughout its history, beginning with Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1831 book Democracy in America.  The descriptor also exemplifies “American exceptionalism,” which is a belief that America and its people differ from other countries.  See my earlier blog entry at https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/?s=american+exceptionalism

Why is America unique?  A theory is that our development as a country was unique.  Our national character was forged by (1) an immigrant stock that included people from many countries, religions, and ethnicities, and (2) an expansive frontier that rewarded hard work, self-reliance, and practicality.  Our forefathers created the world’s first representative democracy, which was founded on the principle that everyone was created equal and was entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  From this rock-solid base, we have created an American Way, with the rule of law, equal-opportunity meritocracy, liberty, free enterprise, civic virtue, the common good, justice, and private property.       

Of course, critics deny the existence of American exceptionalism.  To them, the concept is mere jingoism or nationalistic propaganda.  For proof, they point to other countries in the past who thought they were special (Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Rome, Spanish Empire, etc.).  They also point to obvious stains on American history (slavery, American imperialism, etc.)

I think the critics are wrong.  No one is saying that America has been perfect or is perfect or that it will remain a “city on a hill” forever.  I am only saying that America has historically played a special role in the advancement of mankind and is positioned to continue playing that role throughout this century.  Let’s not mess it up; let’s continue being the world’s role model.