Remember the Alamo? Why some Texans embrace a broader history

Growing up, Vincent Huizar never took much interest in Texas history. He flunked history class in high school, and while he knew his family had lived in the San Antonio area for centuries, he didn’t inquire any further until his son had children.

The third grandchild was born with light skin, light brown hair and hazel eyes, says Mr. Huizar, who has leathery brown skin and dark eyes. His son turned to him and asked a simple question: “Dad, what are we?”

The question launched a 17-year genealogical hunt that led Huizar to discover that he is a sixth-generation descendant of Pedro Huízar, a surveyor and craftsman from Spain who is credited by most for sculpting the iconic Rose Window at Mission San José, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The origins of the 18th-century Rose Window are still being debated. But Huizar’s journey into his family roots reflects a much larger issue for Texans: How to add nuance and a multiplicity of perspectives to a historical narrative that has long been romanticized and oversimplified.

“Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett and all those people weren’t part of me,” Huizar says. “I wasn’t descendants of them. I was a descendant of the other people they were coming in and killing and getting rid of.”

As San Antonio gears up to celebrate its 300th anniversary this year, commemorating the city’s founding in 1718 by Spanish explorers, historians in Texas are trying to broaden how the state memorializes its history.

“It’s very difficult to understand how things are today without looking to the past and how we got here and the experience of our ancestors,” says Brett Derbes of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). “No one wants to feel they’re not represented in that history.”

For generations, a romanticized vision of Texas history was of white male settlers taming a wilderness; of James Bowie and Davy Crockett falling at the Alamo; of cowboys herding cattle across the plains; and of gushing oil wells. That vision largely left out Native Americans, women, African-Americans, and other groups.

Texas is far from unique in that sense, as evinced by roiling battles over the removal of Confederate monuments in the South and revisionist accounts of the rebels’ cause. Still, in recent years the state has taken steps to promote more diverse and unvarnished perspectives on its history, even as conservatives have pushed back on school textbooks.

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