<< Day 17: Carlsbad to San Antonio, Texas | Day 19: San Antonio to Lafayette >>
We were up early this morning for our 8:00 appointment at the generator repair shop. We had changed time zones entering Texas yesterday, losing an hour, so our bodies seemed to be in slow motion as we dragged ourselves from our cozy beds at what felt like 5:00 a.m.
At Cummins, a diesel engine shop, we left the RV in the good hands of Josh, who inspired confidence with his positive energy and direct approach to what might be wrong with our generator.
We took a taxi to the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. Our driver, Scott, was exceptionally friendly and talked nonstop during the 10-minute ride. His wife had lost her job a few years ago because of the onset of muscular dystrophy, and they had lost their house through foreclosure. Their cars had also been repossessed. Their family of five was able to find a small 21 foot travel trailer that they had lived in for six months before moving into another house. They were apparently on better financial feet now because we heard about their TVs, VCRs, computers, and collection of 700 DVDs.
We arrived at the Alamo.
The information booth gave us a paper with 12 drawings of items that the children could search for within the museums and other spaces at the Alamo. Genevieve had a great time on this “treasure hunt”, and she was able to find all but one item.
Sebastian decided not to do the item search, and he also informed us that he was “tired of tours.” I asked him what he wanted to do today, and he said, “Go to some ruins and explore.” I think that he was disappointed in how “structured” the Alamo was, with items in glass cases, lots of people, record temperatures in the 100’s, and little room or opportunity to run around and climb on things.
Jesse, a Mexican-American from San Antonio, gave an excellent talk on the history of the Alamo.
There are differing views about the events that occurred at the Alamo. Jesse was very passionate and presented a persuasive interpretation of what happened. Before coming here, I had heard two widely different versions. While many people (including myself) remember the phrase “Remember the Alamo!”, most people’s memories are a bit fuzzy regarding WHY we should be remembering it. Because I learned so much from Jesse’s story, as well as the information presented in the Alamo museums, I will share my new understanding here. (The background information is important to place the battle in a proper context, so please bear with me.)
The Alamo Story:
Background, Mission: Before the Spanish arrived in southern Texas, the land had been inhabited for hundreds of years by small independent groups of Native Americans. The Alamo mission was built in 1724 by the Spanish, who claimed the land for their country; they also built four more missions nearby. The Spanish sought to convert the Indian population to Catholicism. There are differing opinions regarding whether the Native Americans lived in the missions voluntarily, but the facts indicate that the Indians did most of the hard labor at the missions (building the church and other structures, as well as planting and harvesting the crops). 70% of the Native Americans died from disease and other things while at the mission, and military troops went to other areas in the west to capture and bring back more Native Americans to “convert.”
Background, Relative Harmony: After 70 years, the Spanish secularized the missions and distributed the surrounding land to the people working at the missions (however, there is little evidence that the Native American workers received any land). During the years that followed, Mexico gained its independence from Spain. The people in the southern Texas area lived and worked in relative harmony with each other (at least, that is the story that was presented). These people consisted of the Spanish settlers (called “Tejanos”), the European settlers (called “Texians”), and the Native Americans who had been converted to Christianity by the Spanish.
Mexico sought to create a buffer from the often-violent raids by the Comanche bands of Native Americans, who lived in northern Texas; they invited settlers from the United States to come and live in southern Texas, with the promise of free land if the settlers converted to Mexican citizenship. Over 30,000 settlers took advantage of this offer—so many that the number of Texians outweighed Tejanos by 10 to 1, and the Mexican government then had to aggressively seek to prohibit U.S. immigration. (Although Mexico prohibited slavery, the U.S. settlers sometimes brought along slaves.) Some of the people in the southern Texas area started talking about forming their own government.
Texas Independence: Santa Anna, a man of Spanish descent from an elite colonial family (not Native American), was elected president of Mexico in 1833. He became a tyrannical ruler and started eliminating the power of the local governments, which did not go over very well with the independent-minded Texians and Tejanos. In late 1835, the Texians and Tejanos rebelled against the oppressive Mexican government and successfully ousted the Mexican troops who had been living in the Alamo. Because they didn’t expect Santa Anna to retaliate in the winter, when battles are rarely fought, most of the local soldiers returned home, leaving only about 160 troops at the Alamo.
The Alamo Battle: Santa Anna was furious about the rebellion in southern Texas and marched several thousand troops to the Alamo, arriving in early February 1836. The 160 defenders of the Alamo held off Santa Anna’s troops for 13 days. During that time, an additional 32 men from surrounding villages joined the defense. All of the defenders knew that they were outnumbered and most likely would die; however, all but one man (who slipped out the back) chose to continue fighting to their death. (The lives of fourteen women and one man, who was a slave, all seeking safety in the Alamo church, were spared by Santa Anna’s troops.)
Final Battle for Texas Independence: Santa Anna’s troops then marched east near the current city of Houston and were defeated in 18 minutes at the Battle of San Jacinto under General Sam Houston. Santa Anna was captured, and the independent Republic of Texas was created. (Ten years later, Texas joined the United States of America.)
Importance of the Alamo: Although people continue to debate “what really happened” regarding the events and motivations leading up to the Alamo battle, the Alamo is remembered (and proudly embraced by Texans and others) for the heroism and perseverance of the men who fought for what they believed in against overwhelming odds.
After visiting the Alamo, we took the boat tour through the Riverwalk area.
Alejandro was our guide.
The children were happy.
We passed a statue of St. Anthony, after whom the city was named.
Our route took us under many bridges.
Alejandro called the Hilton hotel the “lego hotel” because it was famous for being the largest building put together in the shortest amount of time (202 working days). All of the rooms were fabricated off-site and then stacked together. It opened 2 days before the 1968 World’s Fair in San Antonio.
These five bells represent the five missions along the river:
This tall building had gargoyles as rain spouts.
The red-domed building has been the courthouse since 1896.
The floodgate controls on the river were built in 1926. This upper “wall” can drop down to block the flow of water.
In 1921 there was a devastating flood in which the downtown was under 8 feet of water. Afterward, the city wanted to fill in the river and cement it over; however, two women (Emily Edwards and Mary Rowena Maverick Green) who founded the Conservation Society in San Antonio defeated this plan by convincing the city that the river was the city’s “golden egg”—the special aspect that would draw people in. This has proved to be true, and the Riverwalk district of San Antonio attracts over 20 million visitors each year.
The Aztec Theater:
As we floated by this triangular building, we were treated to an optical illusion—the massive front wall appeared to be free-standing. Now it's a building . . .
. . . and now it's just a wall!
The “Casino” building was constructed in 1927 by a group of Germans who used it for a social club; there never was a casino in it.
This building was dedicated to Robert Hugman, the architect who designed the River Walk; he died in 1980.
The Mexican artist Sebastian created this 65 foot high sculpture called "The Torch of Friendship."
Alejandro informed us that every year the river is drained and cleaned during the first week in January. The water is drained slowly over a 6 hour period to allow the fish enough time to swim away. Then the riverbed is dredged, and all foreign objects are removed—silverware from nearby restaurants, cameras and cell phones are the top three items that are found. The cleaning process takes 4 to 8 working days, and then the water is refilled over a 1 ½ day period.
The Tower of the Americas was built for the 1968 World’s Fair. It is 750 feet tall.
This mural is Juan O'Gorman's “Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas”, created for the 1968 World’s Fair.
After the boat ride, we walked along the river, searching for a good restaurant.
Genevieve and Sebastian:
The colors of the umbrellas reflected beautifully under the bridge:
This bird had a striking look (and it wasn’t afraid of us):
We ate lunch at Boudro’s Texas Bistro on the Riverwalk.
There were quite a few “touristy” restaurants lined up along the river, and we were glad that we had taken the time to search for one with a tantalizing menu. Wow! The food was excellent! We were all surprised at how delicious everything was, and the quality of service was very high too.
Many ducks were swimming in the river. They came over to visit when our food arrived. We did not feed them, of course, but we were entertained by the antics of the ducklings, as well as the ongoing territorial dispute between two of the male ducks.
After lunch, we climbed the stairs next to the Bistro to get to the ice cream shop.
There we met a wonderful couple, Terry and Midas, who were enjoying some ice cream.
Both were very friendly to us and struck up a conversation almost immediately, raving about the delicious ice cream and complimenting Sebastian on his beautiful eyes. Midas was born and raised in the Philippines. She and Terry have been married for a couple of years, but Midas has only been in the United States for six months because they had to wait a year and a half for the immigration paperwork to be processed and approved.
Terry and Midas currently live in McAllen, Texas, which is south of San Antonio. Terry said that he was not bilingual and sometimes felt like there was discrimination against people there who didn’t speak Spanish. He has lived in places around the world, and he said that sometimes he feels like a foreigner in his own country.
Both Terry and Midas exuded a happy vibe and openness to other people. Midas had a quick laugh, and her vibrant spirit matched her beautiful outward appearance. She hopes to have a child soon, and we wish her the best of luck!
After our ice cream, we strolled around the Riverwalk loop.
We ended up at HemisFair Park, which was built for the World's Fair.
This bear gave us a big welcome.
Genevieve and Sebastian had fun exploring this large playground structure.
They especially loved zooming off on adventures in this wooden car:
We then took a taxi to see Mission San Jose, which is part of the National Park system (the Alamo is not).
Mission San Jose is the largest of the five missions in the area, and it is sometimes referred to as the “Queen of the Missions.” It was restored in the 1930’s under the WPA. The church is believed to have been originally painted white with colorful decorations.
At the Visitor's Center, we picked up Jr. Ranger booklets for the children. We also watched the award-winning film “Gente de Razón” (translated as “human beings”), about the Native Americans who lived in the missions.
We started to take a volunteer-led tour of the Mission, but we opted to explore the area on our own after the older female guide launched into a description of the Native Americans as a “stone-age people wearing loin cloths and feathers” who were “happy not to eat berries anymore” after the mission started providing them with food. (I kid you not--those were her words.) I am a little over 20% Native American; while Ben and I really try to give our children a balanced view of history from different perspectives, we weren’t in the mood today to listen to such a skewed interpretation of events. We did, however, tell Genevieve and Sebastian that the woman’s version of events is thought to be true by many non-Native American people. (Genevieve also studied the California missions this past year in 4th grade, and so she was well aware of the devastating consequences of the missions on the traditional life and culture of the Native Americans in California.)
We then wandered around the mission area (in the 100 degree heat), and the children completed all of the Jr. Ranger requirements, mostly consisting of answering questions.
The mission walls had some beautiful old doors.
The front of the church:
The interior of the church had a simple design, with white walls.
The children and I outside the church:
The arches of the old walls made a beautiful pattern against the blue sky.
This spring, we had spent some time exploring the small towns in southern Mexico, where there are many old, lovely churches. As I walked out of the San Jose church, for a brief moment I actually thought that I was back in Mexico. We returned to the Visitor’s center, where Rangers Barbara and Jennifer checked the children’s answers and swore them in as Jr. Rangers.
There were two ranger outfits set up so that the children could pose as “real” rangers.
We could see rain off in the distance, but the clouds bypassed us. San Antonio hasn’t had much rain this year, and is facing a drought.
We took a taxi to pick up our repaired RV (thank you Josh!!). Then we spent the evening going to the grocery store, playing in the campground pool, and having a light dinner.
Early to bed—all of us had droopy eyelids this evening!
<< Day 17: Carlsbad to San Antonio, Texas | Day 19: San Antonio to Lafayette >>
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