As a member of the great prayer actuary team in the sky, St. Anthony oversees lost articles, mail (somewhat redundantly), travelers, the elderly (again, bit of redundancy there), Native Americans, and our namesake city, among other of God’s creations. One imagines his intercession card is stacked deeper than a sleeve of corn tortillas. But San Anto artist Rolando Briseño has the huevos to submit yet another request, and to move it up the queue his supplication includes a near-life-size statue and a procession on Alamo Plaza June 13, the Saint’s Feast Day, which will culminate with a flip of the Saint, from upside-down to right-side-up. It’s a nostalgic gesture to our pagan roots, and a gesture of another sort to one of America’s most famous shrines and its version of history: Briseño is asking for a healing of the fault lines that the Alamo defines while the immigration debate glows white-hot again (thank you, pinche Arizona).
“I’m going to create a ritual to adjust the culture of the Alamo to be more inclusive,” he says as we sweat in the shadow of Pompeo Coppini’s Cenotaph after he finishes a quick, fruitless search for “Joe the Slave’s” name among the old mission’s “heroes” carved above our heads. Inspired by Joseph Campbell and John Phillip Santos, SA’s prophet of a mixta future, Briseño believes it’s his duty to prize the Alamo’s brown soul from Marion Michael Morrison’s cold, dead hands.
“The only people who can change the culture of the Alamo are artists and poets,” he says. “The politicians can’t touch it; it’s sacrosanct.”
Sunday’s ritual will include the traditional Native American blessing of the four directions, and a short parade down and around the pavilion, St. Anthony’s effigy tail-up, an upright Alamo at his feet, carried by four actors representing an African-American slave, a white illegal immigrant with a coonskin cap, a contemporary undocumented worker, and a pachuco. Finally, magic will be invoked with a quick half-turn and the statue will be placed on a custom table created by Peter Zubiate (tables are a recurring theme in Briseño’s work). Artist George Cisneros has composed a song for the occasion based on “El Degüello,” which Santa Anna is said to have ordered played just before the infamous 1836 battle. But it’s not a call to arms; Briseño expects dancing rather than throat-slitting when the ceremony’s finished. This is a fiesta after all — the continuation of the reconquista by other means.
“There’s a disconnect between Mexican-Americans now and the Alamo,” Briseño says. “We’re the same people who built it and became Mestizo-ized there.”
It’s not his first swing at the Alamo. In a video he created with Jorge Sandoval and showed at the Bihl Haus Art’s 2006 annual Olvidate del Alamo exhibition, gleeful participants chop at an Alamo piñata until it finally breaks open, releasing a shower of brown plastic babies. If the Flippin’ San Alamo event is suffused with some of the same impish fun (there will be a piñata), it’s also clear that Briseño means to work serious art mojo on the old battleground.
“I don’t think that’s a shrine of liberty,” Briseño says of Davy Crockett’s alleged last stand. Since media coverage of his statue has surfaced, he’s been offered a free tour of the Alamo, but he’s declined because of the tradition that requires gentlemen to remove their head gear. “I said, I refuse to take off my hat to a shrine to owning slaves and taking land.” •
Flippin’ San Alamo
11:30am Sun, Jun 13
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