Remember the Alamo!
Every year March and April bring to Texas bluebonnets, gorgeous nights and memories of Texas Independence. Stories help you sort through memories and help you understand who you are in the world. One story that does that for me is the Battle of the Alamo. This was the celebration of the 176th Anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, where that Battle Cry of “Remember the Alamo!” was immortalized.
On March 6, 1836, the assault led by the Mexican commander Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana killed probably 250 Texians inside the gates of a Roman Catholic Mission called El Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. I remember. I remember Fess Parker being killed. I remember crying as a 12 year old at the movie “The Alamo” as John Wayne swung his rifle around. I remember.
I also know there are no monuments in Mexico City to Santa Ana. The on again-off again dictator and caudillo is not remembered, at least not by the people who won the battle. There is no celebration in Mexico on March 6th of the victory in San Antonio de Bexar.
I cannot visit the The Alamo and not think of all of this. It is a shrine, a memory, a place now of ambivalent feelings. As one of my friends once said after visiting there again: “How can it be that the two peoples I love so much fought and killed each other in this spot?” In order to live cross culturally you have to learn to understand your view of how the world works and someone else’s. Somehow they both have to help you make sense out of living
Worldview is how we see and construct the world around us. It is a complex interweaving of stories, symbols, practices and some key questions about how the world works. These stories we tell, and history is story, help us relate to our own past and to the present. We tell the stories so that we can know. Every year in elementary school we colored a picture of the Alamo, just like we colored cherry trees on Washington’s Birthday. Those symbols: that place, that axe and cherry tree, meant something. Except now for me, the battle for the Alamo carries different meanings.
There was a 1987 made for TV movie, “The Alamo, 13 Days to Glory.” Our family was in the United States for a year sabbatical from Mexico. My children were 7 and 4 at the time. I was watching the movie on one TV while they were watching some children’s show. I was so enthused by the movie I made them come in to the room I was in to watch it. This was Texas; this was our story, and they needed to learn it! As the final assault was taking place and the Mexican Army was storming the walls and killing Texians, my daughter, who had been raised in Mexico from the time she was two, yelled out in Spanish, Adelante los Mexicanos! I died on the spot. No I wanted to say, Anne those are the bad guys the guys inside the Alamo they are the good guys. Except it wasn’t quite that way anymore. For her, for them, who else would have been the heroes? That is worldview.
So the story of the Alamo illustrates this shifting of worldview that has to take place in cross cultural understanding. It so directly affected my own life. The story I grew up with, from coon skin caps to John Wayne took on a different meaning. Who were the bad guys? What did the symbol of that day really mean to me and my understanding of how the world works? Living cross culturally I came to understand that my story wasn’t in conflict with the Mexican story, but somehow different. I learned to reinterpret them both and myself.
Worldview makes all the difference and understanding worldview is one of the most important ways to understand another culture. You have to understand the worldview stories. The stories use the symbols: an abandoned Spanish Roman Catholic Mission, a rebellious people, an enemy, and they help shape the world. But seeing the story from another perspective helps you see that the other culture, even that of the enemy, has its own stories and you learn. The practices of visiting “a sacred place” or even not recognizing an historical date, have to be reinterpreted cross culturally. There are no “quaint or superstitious practices” in other cultures; there are stories about how the world really is, about reality. Living cross culturally is not just about going to a beach resort, living more cheaply somewhere, or taking advantage of tax breaks. It has to be about learning, though not necessarily agreeing with, their stories, symbols and practice.
So a story, a place a memory, a memorial, is not just something out there, it is part of who I am. But now another story and place also became a part of me. If I allow them, they become intertwined with my own stories and life. Living cross culturally means you let those stories intertwine, even if it means reinterpreting your own world. “Remember the Alamo!” or “¡Adelante los Mexicanos!” which is it? I get both of them and they help me see who I am, and what other people see as reality.
Dr. Michael McAleer
If you are interested in cross-cultural training please write me at email@example.com
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© August 2012 Michael McAleer and Third Gringo Productions