Trump chose to visit the border wall for a final time in his Presidency, in a disarmingly valedictory way, to offer a summing up of his achievements as chief executive, that combined the ceremonial fanfare with which he had visited the groundbreaking of a new hotel, accompanied by city officials, but as if he was now inhabiting the role of the public official, the enabler, and the fixer all at once in the unveiling of an even more majestic and far more grandiose national monument. If the visit of the U.S. President recalled the triumphal visits to sites of real estate developments, Trump announced in Alamo that the border wall had progressed from a development project as “completion of the promised four hundred and fifty miles of border wall” transformed what was but a “development project” to border wall sections in either “construction or pre-construction,” that would remain a part of national memory as central as The Alamo itself, even if he never openly referenced the historic site of battle to defend a garrison flying “Old Betsy” by Tejano settlers.
Wasn’t the visit a formal announcement and a bit for public attention of redesigning the open space of the border by the erection of a permanent border structure, an echo of the promotional photo ops he posed for with New York officials on the eve of breaking ground for a new skyscraper or luxury complex in the past, presenting the luxury developments as a victory for the city and its inhabitants?
Trump was reminding the base that he stood for order, after the disorder of the insurrection he had fomented in Washington, DC. The optics of authority were important, and the border wall had to be foregrounded as a prop of his leadership as never before. So often had Trump evoked the border wall for his base as the grounds for his election that he seem to have responded to the sense of a gaping hole in the demands of the Border Patrol in America. Barack Obama joked with some desperation in 2011, exasperated after appeasing Republicans, that if the border barriers at El Paso, TX were “basically complete,” “They’ll want want a higher fence—maybe they’ll need a moat! Maybe they want alligators in the moat!” Trump in 2019 adopted that very cinematic fantasy, per Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, by seeking cost estimates to stock a trench with alligators to ward off migrants from border-crossing to end cross-border flow on what he saw as his property, gloriously removed referential data to place. A moat may have been the ideal image of stoppage by terror, not rooted in place, but conveying the bravura of a builder. As the image gained currency in photoshopped images, Trump was furious at his staff, convinced a leak had occurred that held him up to ridicule. “You are making me look like an idiot! I ran on this. This is my issue!”
It was his issue, but enlisting aquatic reptiles was implausible in an arid desert –even if some speculated that the subsidies to Florida alligator breeders would secure the state’s votes. The planning of an adequately prohibitive trench opened the President to a range of questions about the feasibility of a border wall, and suddenly opened the project to ridicule–as the visit to Alamo opened speculation that Rudy Giuliani would join Donald Trump at the Alamo car rental agency at an airport in Texas. But the visit would showcase front lines of border protection by Border Patrol, the foot soldiers to stop migrant transit, and this time: in Alamo, the sheer concrete of the border wall existed at a real place–if “Alamo” was more evocative in the national imagination as a reminder of the perpetual vulnerability of the border as much as its defense. Trump visited the border wall to restore dignity to the office which he was leaving in disgrace–far less gracefully than he had departed NBC after fifteen seasons of The Apprentice. If affirmed as a law and order President beside the officers of Customs and Border Protection. If the moat caricatured border protection in photoshopped images, Trump wanted to promote the remaking of the Mexican-American boundary reveled as no fantasy game of alligators extending on a thousand-mile lazy river leading to the Rio Grande, but an occasion to praise heroes “who risk their lives every day to protect our families and our country” in a scared duty that compared to the patriotic moment of border defense at The Alamo mission, in the heroic adventure film of John Wayne, set in San Antonio,–even if that shrine to the nation lay a full two hundred and twenty miles north, or three and a half hour by car, and about eight days by foot.
Trump magnified the border wall as a monument to the nation by a place-name able to evoke the image of national defense over a thirteen-day siege by foreign forces, transcended its role in the creation of Texas, or Texian pride, as a defense of flying the American flag as an icon of continental destiny and hemispheric dominance, monumentalized as an American Thermopylae, preserving American democracy and the expansive rule of American destiny before a Mexican threat, as Thermopylae turned all Greeks against the invading Persians. The status of the mission as a shrine to Texas maryrs and the struggle of liberty against Mexican tyranny gained a patriotic concensus that Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbit famously ruffled in 1979, when he pointed out “The Alamo is a symbol of the problem in our relationship with Mexico” as a nation–a view that Mexican-Americans saw as epitomizing a paternalistic relaiton to Mexico. For while it is continued to be commemorated as “a sacred symbol to Texans and an extension of the American ideal–but to Mexico it’s a symbol of territory lost, a nation plundered by overbearing gringo neighbors.” Nonetheless, the heroism of the defense of the garrison was returned to in television films from the 1987’s The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory, the 1988 IMAX spectacle Alamo: The Price of Freedom; and in John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film The Alamo–that elevated the national identity of America in terms of a struggle against Mexican culture and authority, if not, as Richard Flores has argued, a “master symbol serves as a critical map for the exploitation and displacement of Mexicans” in a triumphant narrative of American history and an American way of life.
The ongoing nature of a threat to American liberties and democracy was channeled in a visit to Alamo, TX. Never mind that the that the Texian insurrection at a munitioned garrison was in Mexico: the siege raised by Mexican forces of General Antonio López de Santa Anna may have even glorified the moment of insurrection to the groups that had contributed to the insurrection at the White House, known as the Capitol Siege, echoing the admiration and sympathies Trump had declared to the insurrectionists, who might find precedent for their own invasion of a joint session of congress in the insurrectionists and anti-federalists of the past. On the eve of increased buzz among far right extremists in the United States of renewed interest in staging disruptive events during the incoming Presidency and inauguration, even the slightest reference to glorifying the Tejano insurrection as a moment of national defense broadcast messages. Was not the insurrection The Alamo a moment of holding one’s ground to defend the nation, even against all odds? The valiance of the attempt to hold the fort dignified an insurrection quelled by a hero of Mexico’s war of independence summoned to restore peace had been rewritten as a defense of patriotic liberty. Enlisted in the script of national legends as a defense of liberty and nation, as the cry of patriotic injunction to “Remember the Alamo!” rallied revolutionaries and troops in the later Mexican-American War of 1846-48–and would reverberate as “Remember the Maine!” in Hearst Newspapers as they sought to start the Spanish-American War.
The place of The Alamo in the national memory was inscribed on the border town founded at the turn of the century, shortly after the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor was taken as a ground of war. Although San Antonio was a site of American illegal immigration into Mexico, far from the current border wall, its commemoration of alleged rights of independence in the border town geographically removed from The Alamo reminded us of the power of mythic enlistment of an ideal of national defense, echoing the notion defending national ideals encouraged just days earlier when the Capitol building was seized for four hours–and would have in 1905 commemorated the national defense of the border at the “new” border town.
This time, the President wanted to remind the base, the place existed, the wall was rooted in space. Trump wanted to share a moment of bonding with Border Patrol that might moreover root the border wall visit in a moment of national memory. And what better way than by evoking a sacralized site of American history at The Alamo, recalling a distant siege of 1836 that some might see as the origins of the Border Patrol, or the first defense of a southern border on Texan land,–if not the transformation from Tejas, the Mexican state, to Texas in defending the garrison in San Antonio, if not the blood shed by the defense of territorial claims of Tejanos that were commemorated in patriotic cries of United States soldiers who defended American sovereignty over Texas?
The critically foreshortened perspective on the US-Mexico border, and indeed on the border wall, have a long pedigree, whose genealogy might be said to begin from The Alamo, if not the perpetuation of the Alamo myth as a staking of rights to hold land–and, as it happens, to seize munitions and pistols at a fortified garrison. The preservation of the place of The Alamo as a mythic site for standing one’s ground on a line drawn in the sand–a legend without basis in historical fact–testifies to the history of the mutability of the US-Mexico border which was, of course, not firmly defined as a latitude before the two hundred and seventy-six obelisks were set in the ground to mark the US-Mexico border in 1848, after the US-Mexico War fought to define the southern perimeter of the nation–long before the idea of a “border fence” or “border boundary.”
When David Taylor undertook to photograph across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the militarization of the border by the United States had not begun–he took a snapshot that froze and preserved each border monument before the inevitable progress of militarization of the boundary was pronounced. His photographs are a record of the care taken in the boundary line surveyed after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo purchased rights to run the border and cede California Alta, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and much of Arizona to the gringo for $15 million, before the far, far greater allocation of budgetary resources to its fortification destroyed the border landscape.
Given the difficulty of “tracing upon the ground” the boundary concluded by negotiators of the treaty, the essentially arbitrary line was to be surveyed, measured and drawn on the very ground, to make the arbitrary line manifest as a part of the landscape, transforming what was a line in the sand across two thousand miles “to cement the words on the page and the line in the sand . . . both legally and physically.” The jointly qualitative and quantitative project of surveying that was a testament to the skill of deploying a national surveying team along treacherous terrain, engaging astronomers, cartographers, mountaineers, and artists, often the veterans of the US-Mexico War, was a massive national project of sovereign aggression, cementing the map to the land by assembling piles of rocks, cairns completed in 1852 but later replaced by obelisks every to to four miles apart to be able to be seen by an individual line of sight, transforming the arbitrary line to a the landscape.
The obelisks later affirmed as a patriotic point of reference from which flew flags marking territorial claims.
When Donald Trump ran for President on the promise to expand the border as a monitory wall, the border was already militarized, but expanding the investment in a border infrastructure to solidifed in the national imaginary and memory. Announcing a visit to Alamo as he left office sought to recognize the militarization of the border and the threat of its breaching simultaneously, by evoking without every having to the memory of the loss of The Alamo, and the conquest of the border, by creating an imaginary continuity in the historical militarization of this border line. Donald Trump, a huge fan of John Wayne, whose birthplace he visited int eh Iowa Caucuses of 2015, when running for President, must have remembered the stirring defense of the nation that was imagined in the 1960 historical epic, “The Alamo,” where Crockett shoots as many Mexican soldiers as he can, before his ammunition is exhausted, in his defense of a “line in the sand” for the conceit of a Republic. The visit that promotec the defense by Tejano soldiers of the garrison in San Antonio, then a border town to the Mexican interior of the Mexican state of Texas, evoked the myths of claimed sovereignty by an early historical imaginary of a line in the sand, commemorated in historical epics of the American cinema. For American films from D.W Griffith’s Martyrs of the Alamo to John Wayne’s technicolor epic magnified the patriotism of the defense of a racialized line in the sand that evoked the nation over the region. The defenders of the garrison commandeered by Tejans never agreed to defend a line in the sand–nor did their leader, Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis, even draw one–the image of a “line” that emerged by 1873 in printed accounts of The Alamo, that mythologized the siege as a defense of a Texan state, evoked the boundary of the 1848 Treaty as a line that the fort’s defender drew with unsheathed sword on the Mission’s grounds.
The nineteenth-century American migrants who fought to reclaiming what they understood as their Constitutional rights would, after all, lead the United States to recognize Texas as a state in 1845, and defend Texas’ southern borderline. While the vision of the a moat filled with alligators seemed a flight of fancy, the reference to another Alamo seemed rooted in space, if it was not exactly geotagged. By evoking the myth of border vulnerability, bravery, and militarized valor in one of his final public appearances as President, Trump celebrated his creation of a wall in “this great outdoor space” in what he called only recently “a broken, dysfunctional open border.” The implicit message that it might soon devolve as an open border–and “the most secure border in U.S. history” might soon be breached. While “we got it done” to meet the letter of the request of the U.S Border Patrol, “the completion of the promised four hundred and fifty miles of border wall” what was a “development project” in either “construction or pre-construction,” the border wall system must remain, Trump implied, a part of the Texas geography as central as The Alamo itself. While he pronounced the border wall complete, enshrining it in a nationalist, the section at Alamo was always in danger of reverting to the dangers evoked in the diorama of thousands of Mexican soldiers attacking its walls that lies in The Alamo in San Antonio, able to be evoked, without even naming it, in his audience’s minds.
This, at least, seemed a real place–and seemed the conclusion of a history where the walls of the Alamo were besieged and new walls, truly unbreachable, existed at Alamo TX, in their memory. The ruins of the fort that were a shrine to national memory had provided a living memory to the nation, preserved in the oppositional terms that they had been recorded in the diary of the member of the volunteer Revolutionary Army of Texas, Dr. John Barnard, as the very Mission and church whose masonite walls were stormed as “the foes of liberty came and dealt death and destruction to all around.” They site of pillage would be claimed by a Mexican army that had “exulted in their carnage and gloried in the conquest of a handful of brave men, who overpowered by numbers, fell as those heroes of old did Thermopylae,” where 7,000 Greeks had held off what were said to be a million Persian invading troops in ancient three-day battle that had raged in a mountain pass. The topos of invasion had cast the Alamo as itself a divide where the Texian revolutionaries held the garrison that had fallen, but was preserved in popular and national memory something akin to the early wall–the line that, legend had it, the commander of the garrison, Cl. Travis, traced in the sand with his sword, as he asked fellow-defenders to choose to defend “in freedom’s cause” or to accept the surrender to General Santa Anna demanded. If historical legend has it that all but one of the “heroic defenders” still commemorated in Texas High School history books had chose to defend, their canonization as martyrs was enshrined in the adoption of the battle charge “Remember the Alamo!” to among Texan Revolutionaries, revived in the defense of Texas’ southern boundary in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and the Spanish-American war.
Just three years after The Alamo was retaken, before American forces had occupied Mexico to provoke the United States-Mexican war, Mitchell’s Family Atlas had mapped Texas as lying outside Mexican sovereignty, a decade before the state entered the union, four years before Mexico’s foreign minister warned Washington that annexation of Texas as a state would be an act of war–even if cotton production in Texas had encouraged the extension of slavery, competing with plantations in southern states for pricing their primary cash crop.
While the defense of the United States’ new southern boundary after the annexation of Texas by Congress, as the military occupation of the territory led Mexico to sever relations with the United States government, the State of Texas was mapped as Anglo land grants above the Rio Grande (or Rio Brava), during the Texas Revolution, against longitude from Washington, DC according to acts of the U.S. Congress, as Texas militia invoked The Alamo decades before the United States’ southern border officially extended to the Rio Grande.
San Antonio was far from the southern border, but as a crucial trading post to the Mexican interior, and trading post, the city where the Alamo lay was a The mythic line for holding ground against the Mexican forces was never drawn by defenders of the garrison at the Mission whose masonite walls afforded a border outpost and fortress; but the line was mythologized in the service of the defense of a longitudinal boundary line, and is commemorated for all visitors to the Alamo, a shrine to revolutionaries as the site of burial of its defenders, marked by a bronze rod inset in paving stones twenty feet before the church’s door, as a line that Texian separatists pledged to defend to the death until they exhausted their supply of canon balls and bullets. The line, even if it does not commemorate an actual place, and was never drawn, has been enlisted in a project of national memory in a celebratory history of the start of “the geopolitical structure of the Americas” and an exclusion of Mexican history and Mexican memory from the map, as it inscribed a myth of belonging to the occupiers of The Alamo, and their defense of a territory which we imagine we vicariously continue: the naming of the city of Alamo at the entrance to the Rio Grande Valley, in Hidalgo County, was named after the shrine of Texan liberty in San Antonio, as it lay just north of the US-Mexico border.
The place-name not only erases Mexican presence from the Rio Grande valley at a place where the river regularly overflowed its bounds, but reduces the wilderness wildlife refuge that abuts the border, the lush region still fed by seasonal overflow of the Rio Grande in an area of massive water diversion, one of the few areas in the region amid cleared lands where flooding was curbed by settlers, an ecological niche for migrating birds. If the memory of The Alamo was an erasure of Mexican land claims in Texas up to the border, the expansion of levees, concrete panels, and border wall system would erase delicate avian habitat along the Rio Grande or, as it is known in Mexico, the Rio Bravo has nourished. If these ecological niches were encouraged in wildlife refuges established in the 1940s, to counteract water diversion and land clearing, elevating the perspective of the border complexby imposing a perspective privileging construction of the border wall along sensitive habitat–and erasing the serpentine border that runs through the Rio Grande Valley wilderness complex–
–privileging the fear of a “flood” of migrants over the seasonal flooding of the river that long enriched riverside “resecas” by water bearing loamy soils, through the imposition of dikes, levees, and dams for water diersion, erasing the flooding of ecoystems by clay-rich waters by expanded sheer concrete of a border wall.
–as a grid of urban development, land clearance, and habitat destruction advances along the border, increasingly threatened by the very construction projects that have completed existing segments of border wall. The triumphalist image of the progress of construction promotes a dangerous vision of border defense, erasing the protection of sensitive habitat in wildlife refuges critical for migrating birds, privileging the fear of migrating humans above migration patterns of birds and butterflies, by imposing the perspective of the imperative of continuing the construction of further levees in the Rio Grande Valley for border wall.
1. The dividing line of the bronze bar before the mission that was a garrison channels the defense of the border. The evocation of this bronze line set in The Alamo evokes a military defense of the border that imbued with sacred purpose. As the defense of the border was commemorated in the historic epic of border defense, directed and produced by John Wayne, featuring the cowboy actor massacring “invading” Mexicans in a celebration of commitment to a fateful line for the nation, the mapping of the border wall removes the edge of the nation from its environment. In ways akin to a line of longitude, maps a divide of territorial defense in the name of the nation, even if the choice to defend the garrison was made by Anglos who entered Mexico as illegal migrants, only later remembered as sacrificing their lives to assert inalienable rights: the echo of the falsification of the preservation of rights was echoed in the name of the border town Trump visited to commemorate completion of panels of a border wall designed and in the process of completion to deprived migrants of rights. And while Trump may know little American history, or is widely read in Texas history, despite the many rallies he has had in the state, U.S. Border Patrol is so keen to have the completed border wall recognized as if it were a line of national defense, that Joe Biden’s administration might allow Mexican immigrants to breach, that Trump arrived in Alamo TX.
The name of the border town is itself a commemoration of the Americanization of the Alamo–an old Mexican fortress, the Fortress of San Antonio de Valero, that has entered the nationalist lexicon of many of the militias commemoration at Alamo emphasized the primacy of a border, over a borderland, and in visiting the wall at the end of his Presidency performatively enacted a telling bond to the nation, fulfilling the fully transactional nature of his relation to the U.S. Border Patrol’ union whose board early endorsed his Presidential candidacy, thrilled by the commitment and seriousness with which he tool the construction of a border defense system. It was time for Trump to restore his sense of pride, in the days after the Siege of the Capitol, and to try and restore his sense of himself as a Law and Order President, who had promised jobs, not mobs.
Who could deny that the primal scene of the border-like invasion of the breaching of the garrison walls of a building known as The Alamo, and not the Fortress of San Antonio de Valero, was at the back of his mind, given its place in the national psyche as a site of national defense? The commemoration of the Alamo of the struggle of Fortress of San Antonio de Valero, is after all its own sort of confederate monument, commemorating the attempt of settlers from the southern states who would expand slavery to Texas, as it was established as a Republic–before joining the United States–making it the most retrograde of nations as the only one to sanction second-class status for blacks–or to deny them citizenship. In the calls for the removal and reassessment of Confederate monuments in Texas and around the nation, the Alamo is one of the most deeply racist–with national status, but little international value, and indeed an insult to Mexicans, who should see the garrison where so many lost their lives as a shrine to the Mexican nation, even if it lies in United States territory.
For The Alamo is a shrine of the agenda of white supremacy that distinguished nineteenth century Texas history, and a racially inflected line of battle, as much as a defense of the nation, which is a touchstone for gun rights activists, and even the leader of Branch Davidians, followers of a self-anointed prophet, David Koresh, who had announced the end of times, who staged a showdown with federal forces at Waco TX called a “wake-up call” for Americans akin to Waco–perhaps more apt comparison than any–and should be reassessed as a battle, historian H.W. Brands argued, as an engagement with Mexican forces that in terms of its “contribution to the strategy of the Texas Revolution was nil or negative,” rather than a turning point or watershed of local history, meriting commemoration as a national sacred shrine. The Alamo is often, however, iconographically remembered as a fortress over which flew the Gadsden Flag, recently adopted by the Alt Right and southern secessionists, white supremacists, or states rights activists, even if the Mexican soldiers who stormed its barricades to restore order in the garrison that anti-federalist Texians held for thirteen days in a stand-off had only arisen during the heady rhetoric of states’ rights, liberties to own guns, and religious freedoms that the Waco massacre itself provoked among white supremacists and white terrorists who were energized to action during the Waco siege, and which have found renewed focus among varied militia groups which grew in fears of a Hilary Clinton victory, and have multiplied in Donald Trump’s presidency–groups with strong ties to the U.S. Border Patrol. Did Border Patrol invite Trump to Alamo to evoke the depths of their commitment to preserving the border wall, and the apocalyptic imagery of ending the wall complex defined as critical to border security?
The recent salute to the heroism of Border Patrol members at Alamo, TX was a clear reference to another cinematic fantasy of national defense, this time of sacred origin. The symbolic nature of the huge assault Santa Anna waged at The Alamo brought a massive 1,800 assault troops to lay siege to the munitioned garrison that the settlers desperately defended, resolved to hold to the end, perhaps, legend has it impelled to bravery by their commander drawing of a “line in the sand” refusing to cede land. The war ending in bloody hand-to-hand combat left dead almost all hundred and eighty nine defenders of the fort, save a few women and children gallantly allowed to leave the garrison’s besieged walls as the mission and its walls became the target of enemy canon fire to retake the garrison, earlier abandoned, in December, 1835, using canon onslaught to retake the strategic fort and its munitions, March 6, 1836.
Was the border wall a similar instance of martial valor, and, indeed was enshrined by many militias and white nationalists as a canonic turning point in the border’s defense in future histories of the American West, trying to retain a garrison filled with munitions as from its walls, as they faced canon fire on two flanks?
The construction of the border wall on the southwestern border of the nation was central to the very notion of nationhood, Trump insisted. Trump so compellingly made a central issue of his first Presidential campaign, has been showcased in his Presidency to created a wedge driven into the nation, if the border wall promised to protect national security in ways that previous administrations, for a lack of clear bearings on the situation or blinded by political incompetence that prevented them from endorsing measures of sufficient strength. “All of you people, incredible,” Trump waxed, trying to soar to patriotic heights, as he praised a secure southern border and reformed immigration system as if the border wall stood as but a synecdoche for a complex ensuring border security, prefigured, however ahistorically, in the undying defense to the end of the Alamo.
Trump was offering during his visit a new narrative of his Presidency rooted in law enforcement, not the expansion of anti-migrant hostility or escalation of violence against migrants systematically separated and detained at the border to discourage immigration in almost psychological warfare. The border wall was a synecdoche for national defense: “When I took office, we inherited a broken, dysfunctional, and open border. Everybody was pouring in at will.. Everyone here today is part of an incredible success story. This is a real success story.”
Instead of asking what sort of film was playing in his mind, it makes sense what sort of map he was creating for the nation. The tenor of President Trump’s somewhat valedictory visit to the border town of Alamo, TX reenacted his relation to the nation, by affirming the border not only as a boundary enforced during his Presidency to affirm the nation’s integrity. The flight down to Texas to visit the border wall at the border town Alamo in his first public appearance since the Siege of the Capitol was not only an attempt to feel, but to steal the headlines and turn the attention of the media, and, unbelievably, offer further trigger words after inciting mobs to storm the Capitol building.
The visit was Trump’s first public appearance after the nation was destabilized and shocked by the January 6 Siege–and he sought a new photo opportunity to look Presidential that restored an image of law and order long cultivated and projected onto the border and its blockage, if often from a repertory of performance more imbued in cinematic fantasy than immigration law.Continue reading