‘It takes compassion, courage, a willingness to ask tough questions to be able to continue to do the work. So when you look at the Alamo, you don’t think Davy Crockett or all this John Wayne mythology of this place. You think of the compassion and grace of those indigenous people.’
Last week, Deceleration caught up with Karla Aguilar, development director of American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, about a number of pressing issues. High on this list is the struggle over the redevelopment of the Alamo complex and possible state recognition for the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation. Aguilar is an immigrant from El Salvador, a long-time ceremonial dancer, and adopted member into the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, which formed AIT “for the preservation and protection of the culture and traditions of the Native American tribes and other indigenous people who resided in the Spanish colonial missions.”
Official state recognition would profoundly impact the ability of Native people to protect the human remains beneath the Alamo complex and influence Alamo redevelopment, where a drive by top Republican leadership would limit site interpretation to the 1836 battle immortalized and contorted by generations in often mythical retelling. This would not only exclude (conservatively) 10,000 years of indigenous presence across the region in a continued erasure of Native people but neglect the important ongoing contestations over the meaning of the space.
Both of the House and Senate bills intended to grant state recognition to the nation appear to be bottled up in committees. HB1661 carried by Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-118) is sitting with the House Committee on Culture, Recreation, & Tourism, where Committee Chair, Rep. Ken King, has refused to bring the bill for a vote, according to multiple sources. A representative from Pacheco’s office said that his boss “pushed very hard” to bring the bill to a vote. “We put all the effort we could on it and now it’s up to the chair,” he said.
King spokesperson Megan Quijano at first denied her boss had an objection when asked about a duplicate bill in the same committee (HB1663). However, she quickly confirmed King has a fundamental objection to any effort by the State of Texas to recognize tribes that don’t already have federal recognition.
You can email King here or call (512) 463-0736 to share your thoughts on the matter.
If you’re curious about what it takes to get a straight answer from a press official, listen to my conversation with Quijano here:
The companion Senate Bill 805 carried by Sen. José Menéndez (D-26) has apparently stalled with the State Affairs committee along with a similar bill to officially recognize the Lipan Apache people in Texas.
This interview was originally intended for broadcast within ongoing anti-racist trainings developed for those in the environmental community in San Antonio and beyond. But as meetings between friends so often do, our conversation wound into unexpected and illuminating territory. Here we speak broadly about settler/colonial mindsets as a manifestation of white supremacy and how these mindsets inform dominant narratives around the redevelopment of Mission San Antonio de Valero, aka The Alamo. As Karla states, the settler/colonial expansion brought not only a war on Native people, but a violence that is sustained in settler ideas of holdin dominion over the land and “growth” assumed as an unquestioned social good.
“I invite folks [to] acknowledge that they have a duty, to acknowledge that they have a power in a personal capacity to do more, to tap at that curtain. You know, pull it back. And then what you’ll find is a mirror. And in that mirror it takes compassion, courage, a willingness to ask tough questions to be able to continue to do the work,” Aguilar says.
In this way, “When you look at the Alamo you don’t think Davy Crockett or all this John Wayne mythology of this place. You think of the compassion and grace of those indigenous people that intermarried who ended up as the demographic bedrock of San Antonio that built San Antonio de Valero, aka the Alamo, and all the other missions that were the pueblos that San Antonio grew up around.”
While this is represents the heart of our conversation, I wanted to offer a bit of additional information here for Lege watchers, as these critical bills must move out of committees soon if they are going to get a vote before the end of the current session next month.
Related to the Tap Pilam effort is SB2041, pending in the Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, which would require consultation with Native American tribes in matters related to the Alamo, whether those tribes are recognized by the state or federal government, “before beginning any major project to preserve, maintain, restore, or improve the Alamo or Alamo complex.”
Meanwhile, HB3958 aims to define more broadly the process by which a tribe may seek state recognition, including the right of others to lobby in favor or in opposition, and (among other criteria) requires an applicant to prove they have been “identified as a Native American entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900.” Not inconsequentially, the 1900 state Census counted only 470 Native Americans in Texas.
And no wonder. From its earliest days, the elected leaders of the Republic of Texas ushered in statehood with a call for an “exterminating war” on all Native peoples. In order to survive, Karla explains in our conversation, many of those indigenous to these lands changed their names and adopted Mexican identities. Just as the process of rediscovery continues for many of Native ancestry, so does, we hope, a rising recognition of the responsibilities among those of settler descent in terms of their responsibilities.
Here’s the audio file of the interview:
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Additional Readings: A Settler Colonialism Primer; Settler Fragility: Why Settler Priviledge is So Hard to Talk About.’