I just spent a few days in Texas where I spoke at the San Antonio Book Festival, which is now in its seventh year. Bright
and early on the first session, I spoke with librarian Viki Ash about Merci Suárez Changes Gears.
This time around, my husband came along, and we had a chance to do some sightseeing – a luxury that almost never occurs when I do author travel on a tight schedule.
We visited the Riverwalk and the Tower of the Americas, which was just too tall for me, I’m sorry to say. We did catch an amazing storytelling event at The Moth as well as a cool laser light show that’s shown nightly for free at San Fernando Cathedral, a sort of 20-minute mini-history of the city. All in all, we ate too much good food and got well-earned blisters.
But the thing that I wasn’t prepared for was a chance to wrestle with in-your-face historical erasure. Javier and I visited the San Alamo Mission because, well it was down the block, and “Remember the Alamo”, and all that. But in walking the beautiful grounds and reading the placards describing the “heroic last stand” against 1,800 Mexican troops during the Texas Revolution in 1836, I wondered about all of the history that seemed missing, a bloody history that eventually led to the lynching of people of Mexican descent at the hands of the Texas Rangers and other authorities.
But it was all confirmed for me the next day when I met historian Dr. Monica Muñoz Martinez of Brown University, who is an Andrew Carnegie Fellow (2017-2019), and who received her PhD in American Studies from Yale University. Her book The Injustice Never Leaves You, reveals the historical accounts – often suppressed in official records as defense against “bandits” – that she collected from primary sources and interviews with family members whose ancestors were murdered by authorities between 1910 and 1920.
I met her by chance as we were politely eating our cookies in the VIP room. I told her we had visited the Alamo. “What did you think?” she asked. I told her I thought some important history was missing.
And then we started to talk.
I live in Richmond, VA, a city with its own long legacy of racial violence and revisionist interpretations of history. So, I’m no stranger to folks who hold on to sanitized versions of the past. But what Dr. Martinez said next chilled me to the bones. She said that in her view what we know about the Civil War and slavery and violence is years and years ahead of the full disclosure that is still needed as regards the violent history of the borderlands.
Later, as Javier sat in for her session, she drove home her point: the discourse and tenor of what is happening now at the border has its basis in historical events which were buried and simply denied. It surprises us only because that history was never told. What is happening now requires our urgent attention.
I left the session thinking about histories, all histories – personal and communal, and about how their distortions hurt us. I thought about it as I bought my copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s SHOUT. I thought about it as I recommended The True History of Lyndie B Hawkins by Gail Shepherd to some of my SCBWI folks in San Antonio. I thought about it as I watched that beautiful laser light show and wondered if in all the large and welcoming hearts of Texans and Americans, there is room for the hard truths about who we’ve all been to one another over time.