At about noon on June 13, the feast day of Saint Anthony, four actors carried an eight-foot statue of San Antonio’s namesake and brought it to rest in front of the Alamo. They were under the direction of Rolando Briseño, a 58-year-old artist and impresario with closely cropped dark hair and inquisitive, darting eyes. Briseño’s forehead was beaded with sweat, and he wore a crisp, short-sleeved guayabera and a triumphant smile as he led a procession of more than two hundred revelers in the staging of a fiesta designed to, in his words, “reconceptualize the Alamo as a space for celebrating the confluences of cultures—Native American, African, Mexican, and Anglo—rather than a shrine to Anglo dominance.”
On Briseño’s mark, the bearers flipped the statue upside down. “In Catholic tradition, people pray to saints for help,” he said earnestly. “The statue of Saint Anthony is turned upside down when praying for favors. Many of us have asked for years that Mexican Americans, heirs of the builders and descendants of the original people of this city, share in the Alamo legacy.”
Soon the fiesta began. A Native American shaman blessed Briseño and the crowd of mostly Mexican American scholars, artists, and writers and waved a seashell filled with incense as halos of sweet-smelling sage floated through the air. Finally Briseño declared the event a success. For a day at least, Hispanics had participated in the story of the Alamo. With another swift flip, Saint Anthony stood right side up against the backdrop of the mute and immobile facade of the mission. Everyone cheered, including the usual herd of tourists who had gathered in the plaza.
Less than a week later, when the news broke that the state’s attorney general had launched an investigation into the Daughters of the Republic of Texas for failing to fix the cracked and leaky roof in the nearly three-hundred-year-old chapel, some in San Antonio speculated that the public spell cast by Briseño may have supernaturally contributed to the DRT’s troubles. In addition to finding themselves under official scrutiny by Greg Abbott, the powerful matriarchs, who have been the custodians of the Alamo since 1905, are also at loggerheads with Governor Rick Perry for attempting to acquire a federal trademark on the words “The Alamo.”
But that is only one front in the battle for control of what most people revere as the shrine of Texas liberty. As the stewardship of the starchy old guard of the DRT is