Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452

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“The Other Alamo” provides a contrarian view of a pivotal event in Texas and American history. It asserts that there is an “other Alamo” of defiant protest against Anglo-American tyranny, which needs to be recognized and applauded. While Espada does not dispute the valor of the Alamo defenders, he despises its effects both on present-day Texas and on the city his father visited in 1949. His main point is that Texas independence from Mexico led to the subjugation and oppression of the Mexicans who remained. This bias extended to other people of color. Espada is the champion of his father’s protest against racism in San Antonio, an action taken in concert with a black and a white companion. Sadness creeps in, however, when he notes that the site of that protest, the lunch counter, “was wrecked for the dump years ago.”

Espada’s poem commemorates “the other Alamo” and points to continued protest in the news of the defilement of the Alamo’s doors. His poem is important because it raises questions about the interpretation of a historical event. It is a risky poem because it challenges the traditional view of the winning of Texas independence. When the poem claims it was also traditional to treat Mexicans as “peasants” and to portray them as demonic, readers are pressed to question the value of certain traditions.

“The Other Alamo” is a passionate poem fueled by three strong emotions: the poet’s pride in his father’s refusal to be treated as inferior, his love for that young serviceman with his “cap tipped at an angle,” and his anger that any human being could be the object of blatant discrimination. In this respect, Espada is similar to his father, whose “word for fury/ is Texas.” The senior Espada was a photographer whose subject matter influenced his son’s choice of poetic material—in both cases, the experience of migrant peoples, the places they live, and their struggles. In a sense, this poem is a kind of dialogue with Espada’s father and an affirmation of his rebellious spirit.

It is also more than that because it reaches out to include other forms of protest against embedded oppression. The poem’s final image of the Alamo doors scarred “in black streaks of fire” speaks of such protest. There is an inflammatory quality to Espada’s work as a whole. His poems are in the Puerto Rican tradition of bomba, or whirls of high-pitched singing giving way to statements of personal or collective truth; bomba also means bomb. Clearly, Espada’s intended audience is not the mainstream either poetically or culturally. His poems tell the stories of migrant peoples, and their most obvious purpose is empowerment.