I read voraciously when I visited the Alamo a few months ago. History has never been my interest, despite marrying a historian. Yet the Alamo intrigued me. My reading revealed a new narrative that pushes against the victorious American hero story many of us were taught. I learned that the Alamo was a Spanish mission to convert Indigenous people to Christianity and that the Texians were horribly massacred in their attempt to overthrow the Mexican government. (This happened before Texas was a U.S. state.) I don’t like battle histories, or bloody histories, but I appreciate hearing the full story.
Elizabeth Le’Anani Coffee, a community engagement facilitator and San Antonio native, took me and a group of ministers from various denominations on a spiritual labyrinth walk around the Alamo — something adapted from Matt Valler, who is known for his city labyrinth walks. We walked around the city block and paused before the Emily Morgan hotel. We read Scripture and learned about Emily. Originally Emily West, she was muse for the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” but her story is not as rosy as the song. She was a free Black person from the North and was enslaved by James Morgan. Stories often misrepresent her as White or leave out that she was enslaved. With each turn around the corner, we relearned history.
Our group was supposed to go around the spiritual labyrinth twice, but four of us decided to go rogue and go inside the Alamo. We walked through a sanctuary-sized room with a dirt floor and clay walls. There was a memorial in the back naming all the soldiers who had died – well, all the White soldiers – and it never mentioned that the Texians died in a rebellion against a corrupt government.
I carried this framework of retelling stories as we traveled south to Reynosa, Mexico, meeting with a minister and his wife who care for the more than 15,000 people who have traveled from all across South America to seek asylum in the United States. Many live in tents in a city block called “The Plaza.” When we asked what we could tell our congregations, each person we spoke with said, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” This was another reminder that we must be responsible with the stories we tell, how we tell them, and to whom we listen.
Whenever I tell my stories of going to the border, meeting people who have traveled in dangerous jungles and waters to find safety in the U.S., I’m writing with great privilege. My hope is that I can tell these stories as accurately as possible to show ways in which we can follow God’s call to welcome the stranger. I also hope to take Le’Anani Coffee’s words to heart, and value people in all that we do. In reflecting on the Alamo, she said, “We need to pay less attention to protecting walls and more attention to protecting the bodies passing through the walls.”