On May 1, 1718, a Spanish expedition to the northern reaches of what was then New Spain established the Mission of San Antonio de Valero—a building today known as the Alamo—and the city that is now San Antonio, Texas, was officially founded. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and passed the General Colonization Law three years later, allowing individuals to own land in Mexico, regardless of race or citizenship. Today, the Alamo is best known for a pivotal battle fought there by white settlers in 1836 in the lead-up to Texas gaining independence from Mexico.
A city that likes a party, San Antonio has gone all out for its 300th birthday this year. On May 1st, it celebrated with Catholic church bells, Buddhist chants, and a gospel choir in the city’s Main Plaza, half a mile from the Alamo. The king and queen of Spain were in town last month to add to the festivities, launching a landmark exhibition of paintings from Madrid at the San Antonio Museum of Art before heading to Washington, D.C., for a reception with the president.
One of the most revelatory exhibitions mounted for the city’s tricentennial, however, aims to rebut rather than celebrate one of San Antonio’s origin stories. “The Other Side of the Alamo: Art Against the Myth,” on view through October at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center on San Antonio’s west side, inverts the narrative around the building that was ground zero for the city’s founding.
The symbol of the Alamo evokes a specific American ideal: a rugged mix of frontier grit, revolutionary zeal, and Spartan sacrifice. The small band of martyrs who dug in against the overwhelming force of the Mexican army at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836—including widely hailed folk hero Davy Crockett—are credited with galvanizing the Texan revolt and assisting a definitive victory over Mexico one month later, setting the stage for Texan independence and, eventually, entrance into the United States.