The Alamo Movie: Clue for Racial Unity
Is it too late for racial harmony?
I rented a tape and saw the movie The Alamo over the weekend and walked away with something I have always known. Half way through it, an extremely important message concerning racial unity was uttered by one of the actors, and many people probably missed it.
Published on LatinoLA: March 6, 2009
I remembered the promoters of the movie before it came out touted it as being more historically accurate than the former version, starring John Wayne, Richard Widmark and other legendary actors. This version, starring Billy Bob Thornton (as Davy Crockett) and Dennis Quaid (as Sam Houston), supposedly would include much fact that native Tejanos (Mexicans born in Texas) played a significant role in defending the Alamo, and contributed greatly to Texas becoming a republic and eventually becoming the 28th state in the Union on February 29, 1845. One of those heroes was Juan Seguin.
Seguin was born in 1806 into a long-established Tejano family in San Antonio, Texas. History records little of Seguin's early life, but he was a staunch critic of Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, the despot leader of Mexico who had a strangle hold on Texas in the 1830's. Santa Ana personally led the slaughter of a group of Texas patriots at a former mission turned mini fortress in San Antonio called the Alamo. Seguin was a strong political ally of William Travis, the Lt. Colonel who valiantly died defending the Alamo while commandeering its volunteer and military forces. Seguin played an active role in the Texas revolution. He served as provisional mayor of San Antonio and led a band of fellow Tejanos against Santa Ana's army in 1835. He was also at the Alamo for the first part of the siege, and survived that massacre because he was sent to gather reinforcements. Later, Seguin and his Tejano Company fought at the battle of San Jacinto, helping to defeat Santa Ana's army.
Seguin, however, would soon feel the sword of betrayal by the aftermath of the Texas Revolution. Many cities in Texas moved to expel all of their Tejano residents and, even in his hometown of San Antonio, many anglos seriously favored such a move. But his most devastating pain came when Seguin helped defeat a Mexican expedition against San Antonio in 1842. In an effort to turn anglo Texans against him, Seguin was publicly accused my some that he was more loyal to Mexico than Texas. Although Seguin was the mayor of San Antonio at the time, anglos who had been his former comrades suddenly turned on him. They drove him from the city where he had been born and forced him to flee to Mexico. Seguin's dream (that the Texas revolution would mean freedom for all Texans) was shattered.
Seguin was forced to seek shelter in Mexico amongst those whom he had fought against seeking Texas' independence. He became separated from his homeland, parents, family, relatives and friends. The Mexican government didn't welcome Seguin with open arms. Upon his arrival in Nuevo Laredo in 1842, Mexican authorities arrested him and told him to choose between serving in the Mexican army or face imprisonment. He reluctantly chose to join the army, and fought in the Mexican-American war against the United States. After the war Seguin received permission to return to Texas. However, in 1867 Seguin was the victim of further racial harassment that forced him back to Mexico. He died in Nuevo Laredo in 1890, right across the Rio Grande from the land for whose independence he had fought so bravely for. The movie didn't reveal this aspect of the heroism and dilemma experienced by many patriotic (American) Tejanos.
Sadly, this untold account of one of the most valiant Tejanos engaged in the Alamo serves as a grim reminder to many Americans of Mexican descent. Many find themselves experiencing the same agony. Thousand upon thousands of Mexican Americans (and other Latinos) have sacrificed their lives for America's freedom on foreign land. During the Second World War, Hispanics received more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group. A close look at today's news reports reveals that many Latinos (some who weren't even born in the United States), are still placing their lives in Harm's Way to defend America. Yet, while most Latinos are proud, hard-working and tax-paying Americans, many still face derisiveness to one degree or the other. Sadly, they are also castigated by Mexican nationals who still call Mexican Americans pochos, a Spanish word which translated means sick or impure. Like Seguin, many Mexican Americans still find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
However, the movie did contain a line delivered by Billy Bob Thornton, which rang ever so loudly in my mind and heart, as a cure for racial unity. As the story unfolded, Santa Ana's large army was encamped about a half a mile across from the Alamo. The Mexican soldiers pointed their giant cannons towards the Alamo, and continuously fired its thunder balls to chip away at their resolve. Each time before they launched their immense fire power at the hapless few defending the small mission turned into a symbolic fortress, the Mexican army's drum and bugle corps preceded the cannon volleys by playing a gruesome sounding tune to psychologically instill terror in the hearts of the volunteers.
Right before one of those attacks, Billy Bob Thornton (as Crockett) stood up and said, "I know what's missing." He quickly got up to one of the Alamo's towers and began playing a patriotic tune on his violin. As the violin sounds wafted loudly towards the Mexican encampment, both adversaries stood in stunned silence as the Mexican bugles' and drums' blaring cacophony melded with Crockett's music to form a melodious and quieting sonata. After a few moments, the volunteers manning the Alamo nervously waited for the cannons to start pounding them again, but nothing happened.
The next scene shows Billy Bob Thornton musing at what had just happened, and he uttered probably the most profound line in the entire movie, one that can bode well for racial unity in this country:
"It's amazing what a little bit of harmony can accomplish!"
Joe Ortiz is the first Mexican American in US history to host an English-language talk show on a commercial radio station. The 25-year media veteran is a PR consultant and lives in Redlands, California.
Email the author