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In San Antonio, Remembering More Than the Alamo

Innovators are using digital tools to tell stories of the city’s Black and Latinx history.

In the summer of 2020, George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed prompted a national reckoning with commemoration. Communities began to think about what to do with controversial, often racist, statues, markers, and place names. Many wanted their landscapes to tell a different story—one that did not venerate racial violence.

The targets of these conversations have been mainly physical plaques and statues—but the resolutions are far more varied. New digital tools let scholars, students, and community members create new, and newly inclusive, forms of memorialization. Hitching historical research to new digital technologies helps tell different, more inclusive, and more nuanced narratives about the past. Malleable digital technologies can be much more creative and responsive than stone statues, soldiers in bronze, or iron plaques. In season three of “Western Edition,” the podcast we host at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, we highlight some of these innovative efforts across the West, including in San Antonio.

One of these is the digital history project Mapping the Movimiento. Created by professors at the University of Texas at San Antonio and its Special Collections Library, the project functions like a “bus tour of San Antonio civil rights locations,” history professor Omar Valerio Jiménez says. Anyone in San Antonio with a smartphone can use the interactive map.

Mapping the Movimiento’s 15 sites span the 20th century. They include Edgewood High School, an anchor for the city’s Mexican American West Side and focus of important judicial rulings about public school funding inequities, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, founded in the late 1980s by Chicano and other activists working toward social justice in San Antonio and beyond.

The landscape of memory and commemoration and race is shifting in the U.S., thanks to historians, students, activists, and community members who are reimagining it in exciting and innovative ways.

Mario Cantú’s family restaurant is on the map, too. “Anybody who was anybody in the Chicano movement when they came to San Antonio met at Mario’s,” says historian Jerry Gonzalez. Known as “the first eating space in San Antonio to desegregate its food counter,” the restaurant served as a vital social hub for the city’s Mexican American community in the 1950s. Today, the restauarant building has been demolished and the land upon which it once stood is part of the downtown campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio. No physical plaque marks the space. Visitors to Mapping the Movimiento’s website can see artifacts and images from the restaurant’s heyday and learn how Cantú became a key figure in the city’s Chicano and civil rights activist communities.