The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Martín Espada’s “The Other Alamo” takes place in 1990 in San Antonio, Texas, the location of the Alamo. The poem’s five sections move through several layers of time: from the present event of a veterans’ gathering to reflections on Texas race relations since the Alamo siege in 1836. Its central event takes place in 1949, when the poet’s father was refused service at a local diner. “The Other Alamo” refers to his father’s protest against overt racism. To appreciate the poem, one must consider the Alamo’s import.

During the siege of the Alamo, 187 Texans held off 4,000 Mexican troops led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Texans were fighting to gain their independence from Mexico. On March 6, when the Mexicans punched a hole in the adobe wall, they entered and killed all the Texans, including the American frontiersmen Davy Crockett and James Bowie. The names “Crockett” and “Bowie” are mentioned in Espada’s first stanza.

The poem begins at a gathering in the “Crockett Hotel dining room,” where a veteran leads others in prayer. Subsequent lines concern the city’s devotion to religious shrines and to the Alamo historic site. Tourists can purchase a “replica” of the Bowie knife, a hunting knife used extensively by American frontiersmen. Its design—a strong, single-edged blade and a horn handle—was attributed to James Bowie. Espada juxtaposes the military references with the religious, ending...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The accessibility of Espada’s poem belies a sophisticated poetic intelligence and subtle effects in word choice and in the ordering of details. Assuming that readers are familiar with the Alamo event, he presents a fast-paced set of images in the two opening sections.

The first stanza refers to “a chalk-faced man in medaled uniform.” Denoting exceptional paleness, the word “chalk” also works alliteratively and in assonance with “Crockett.” This military man “growls a prayer.” Mixing religious and military detail, Espada develops an ironic tone that borders on the scathing. The city may be “saint-hungry,” but the saints are those brave Texans who gave their lives at the Alamo. Instead of a holy relic, tourists can grasp “the talisman of a Bowie knife replica.” The color white returns in the tourists’ “white Biblical quote T-shirts.” The images accumulate a sense of a holy war having been enacted when Texas won independence. “White” represents good; dark represents evil. The whole movement of Espada’s poem disputes this dichotomy.

Stanza 2 moves directly to the Alamo, where “The stones in the walls are smaller/ than the fists of Texas martyrs.” This image chiefly functions to allow the mention of the “martyrdom” of the Alamo heroes while reinforcing the poem’s religious irony. “Their cavernous mouths could drink the canal to mud” is a reference to the enormous thirst of the Texan defenders as...

(The entire section is 444 words.)