My aunt Lydia had a snap-shot camera and liked to take pictures. One memorable picture is of me, on my first day of school, posing in my new clothes and new “bolsillo” book bag, in the middle of the street with my tia’s shadow all over me while taking the picture. Subsequently, I got a Kodak Brownie camera as a gift from Tia Lydia and embarked on my own photographic journey. Years later, as a young man, I got my first 35MM camera, a clunky Argus, shaped like a brick. You had to cock the thing to take the picture, and it let out a loud ‘pting when fired.
It was not until I was in Korea during my Army stint that I got my first fancy 35MM SLR, a Minolta which I soon traded in for a state-of-the-art Nikon FTN, which could be bought cheap at the PX and Japan itself just across the channel, which I visited a couple of times on leave. Japan was going through a tech revolution and by the time I came home, I had two Nikon FTNs, some excellent NIkkor lenses, and an array of fabulous stereo components. And I had learned to process film and make B&W prints at the Army Post craft shop, tutored by the Koreans in charge. Rolling Stone Magazine, then in B&W newsprint tabloid format could sometimes be found on the post and I was very impressed by Annie Leibovitz’s photography in it. I would discover Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon and many others later.
My photographic skill came in very handy when I got back. During the apogee of the Chicano political movement and the Raza Unida Party phenomenon, I essentially became the campaign photographer during Ramsey Muñiz’s run for Governor of Texas in 1972….my now departed closest friend, Carlos Guerra, was the campaign manager. I also took pictures for movimiento periodicals published out of our offices and even had a press card for one of our publications, “Caracol” or “Magazín”, can’t exactly remember which.
In this section, I hope to show-case some of that photography and the story or anecdote behind it because some of it still resonates with relevance.
The Alamo Cenotaph….
These pictures were taken in 1972 and commemorate the work of political pranksters that made a statement by tagging the Alamo Cenotaph, a monument to the “heroes” of the Alamo, with the eagle symbol, the huelga (farm worker’s strike) eagle, as we called it, used by the United Farm Workers union of California and a potent symbol of the Chicano political movement prevalent in San Antonio at the time.
Recent events have made these photographs relevant after almost half a century. An ambitious plan is underway to re-imagine the Alamo area to reflect the story of the mythical “battle” (massacre, actually) and the origins of the Republic of Texas. A plan to relocate the Cenotaph outside the perimeter of the historic Alamo compound stirred up ill feelings and led to a halt of the plans, though they have picked up momentum again, but without the relocation of the Cenotaph. It remains to be seen if the true story prevails.
The Alamo itself is spectacularly mischaracterized as a symbol of freedom. It is no secret that part of what used to be Mexico was a handy piece of real estate that could, if taken by force, expand the Confederacy with one more slavery-allowing state….the founding of Texas was all about slavery and that will forever taint its origin story. The scheme led all the way up to President Andrew Jackson, better known as an exterminator of Native Americans. Texas has been in denial about this but that erodes year by year. Under pressure, only a couple of years ago, a plaque denying that slavery had any part in the founding of Texas was removed from the Texas Capitol. Currently, a bill in the 2021 session of the Texas legislature effectively limits the discussion of race’s role in this country’s and Texas’s history.
It is a stretch to think of a land-grab for the purpose of creating one more “slave” state as having anything to do with freedom. The Alamo Cenotaph props up the myth of the Alamo’s “noble” defenders when in fact, they were fighting for the right to own human beings and totally ignores the true cause behind it. In fairness, Texas’s history is no messier than our whole country’s history and for that matter, the history of so many other countries. The way to put that behind us is to admit the truth and teach it in our schools and stop perpetuating myths. Don’t get me going about the Texas Rangers….
The Alamo Cenotaph deserves removal, not relocation and a good place for it would be where all Civil War statuary is ending up these days.
The pranksters continued to tag the huelga eagle all over the west side of San Antonio but with a different affirmative context. “Viva La Raza” the huelga eagle seemed to be shouting….