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The Real History of Fiesta in San Antonio

Fiesta celebrations, with several parades and events in San Antonio, were previously called Fiesta San Jacinto. It is a 10-day festival held annually in San Antonio and is closely associated with the mythical Alamo story. It originated in 1891 and was conceived by Ellen Slayden as a way to celebrate the fighters (many of whom were slave owners) who fought in the war against  Mexico in 1836.  Most don’t care to know about its history, as it has just become a big party to pour down beer and dance. The original celebrations showed parades that spoke to the segregationist policies of San Antonio city government. Over the years, the Alamo defenders have been characterized as “noble” men. However, there was nothing noble about them. According to Professor Lilliana Saldaña, “It's all about celebrating the Texas Revolution, but the Texas Revolution was not a good thing for people of color."  The whole event had its roots in hatred for Mexicans and Mexican Americans. It was also rooted in slavery, as the Alamo defenders were slave owners who were angry that Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829. As a result, Mexico became the underground railroad for enslaved Black people. For years, the Order of the Alamo and King Antonio was a white men-only affair as the King would ride through neighborhoods with propaganda speeches and fanfare that displayed white supremacy at its best.  Saldaña said in a Texas Public Radio interview, "Fiesta is the commemoration of Anglo victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. …

Fiesta celebrations, with several parades and events in San Antonio, were previously called Fiesta San Jacinto. It is a 10-day festival held annually in San Antonio and is closely associated with the mythical Alamo story. It originated in 1891 and was conceived by Ellen Slayden as a way to celebrate the fighters (many of whom were slave owners) who fought in the war against  Mexico in 1836. 

Most don’t care to know about its history, as it has just become a big party to pour down beer and dance. The original celebrations showed parades that spoke to the segregationist policies of San Antonio city government. Over the years, the Alamo defenders have been characterized as “noble” men. However, there was nothing noble about them.

According to Professor Lilliana Saldaña, “It’s all about celebrating the Texas Revolution, but the Texas Revolution was not a good thing for people of color.” 

The whole event had its roots in hatred for Mexicans and Mexican Americans. It was also rooted in slavery, as the Alamo defenders were slave owners who were angry that Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829. As a result, Mexico became the underground railroad for enslaved Black people. For years, the Order of the Alamo and King Antonio was a white men-only affair as the King would ride through neighborhoods with propaganda speeches and fanfare that displayed white supremacy at its best. 

Saldaña said in a Texas Public Radio interview, “Fiesta is the commemoration of Anglo victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. It commemorates the ‘fallen heroes’ at the Alamo and San Jacinto. So, in a way, it does celebrate white supremacy,”

In the blockbuster book Forget the Alamo, the authors quite accurately show that the mythical Alamo story we grew up with is pure fiction. What is taught in schools is completely false, and teaching students accurate history, such as slavery being central to war with Mexico, should be prioritized so we learn from our past. 

Efforts to deny slavery have even taken on the glorification of Hispanics who supported slavery, such as Juan Sequin and Antonio Navarro. Also, a statue of Hendrick Arnold at the Alamo was erected, which depicts a mulatto man that supported slavery and sold his own daughter. The ‘glorious defense’ of the Alamo has been taught in American history as an example of patriotic courage when, in fact, the battle of the Alamo was fought to defend and extend the U.S. system of human slavery. 

Juan Seguín, Jose Antonio Navarro, and other “Tejanos” (Texas citizens of Mexican heritage) were slave owners or pro-slavery men, and this was the reason for their support of the Alamo defenders in the first place. Jose Antonio Navarro went a step further when he specifically petitioned Mexico’s Afro-Mexican president, Vicente Guerrero, to make an exception to maintain slavery in Bexar County. This makes it clear that while he was defending the plantation system of human bondage, he was also a strong advocate of the horrid institution. Navarro declared the abolition of slavery a “stupid law.”

In 1832, Stephen F. Austin, showing his true pro-slavery philosophy said, “Nothing is wanted but money…negroes are necessary to make it.”  

The Texas Constitution of 1836 legalized slavery after Mexico abolished it and is a strong current and part of the pushback by conservative elements in our society. Below are the words of the signers of the 1836 Texas Constitution that some Fiesta party goers want to ignore or simply do not know: 

“All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude . . . .”

Many people also want the Fiesta celebrations to be divorced from the Texas Cavaliers (a word slung around to describe a courtly gentleman or gallant military men, but they were far from that). Most San Antonians will never know the horrid origins of Fiesta. This is why we can keep the events, but the original reasons for them must be explained and eventually removed.

Additionally, the “royalty” during the celebrations is misleading. According to historian Ruben Cordova, “The Order of the Alamo’s charter provided for the queen and her court, and also specified a mission to ‘educate its members and the public generally in the history of the Independence of Texas and perpetuating the memory of the Battle of San Jacinto.’ Education, in this context, is the promulgation of the Heroic Texas narrative. It conveniently excludes the enslavement of Blacks as well as Native American removal/genocide. It enshrines Mexicans as the villains of Texas history, and the Alamo myth has always served to obfuscate and disguise the conquest of northern Mexico.” 

In a Texas Public Radio interview, Activist Denise Hernandez said, “There’s royalty, and these gowns that cost more than our rent, more than our mortgages. We can celebrate such wealth and such extravagance while, you know, folks who are still living in shacks and don’t even have a high school education? I can’t reconcile that.”

This is what Fiesta is all about, but we should change that. 

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