Rewriting history: Santa Anna of Mexico

Research Policy Office
Monday 12 May 2014
Alamo villain and 19th-century Mexican president is commemorated as Liberator of Veracruz as Mexicans start to rethink his role in history

Professor Will Fowler of the School of Modern Languages has challenged the cultural values and social assumptions in Mexico regarding the “official history” of their six-time president, Antonio López de Santa Anna. Santa Anna, 1794-1876, had been consistently depicted as a traitor, a turncoat and a tyrant in the U.S. to justify the Texan 1835-1836 War of Independence and the U.S. military intervention of 1846-1848 and in Mexico to explain and account for the country’s traumatic defeat in the Mexican-American War. Since the late nineteenth century, he was therefore presented as the traitor who allegedly recognized the independence of Texas in captivity (1836), lost the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) for a fistful of dollars, and shamelessly sold parts of Mexico to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase (1853). He was also consistently depicted as an opportunistic turncoat who changed sides whenever it suited him, without upholding any distinguishable political ideals. Last but not least, he was repeatedly portrayed as the despotic dictator who terrorized the country following independence: “a curse upon Mexico”.

“Santanistas” placing a wreath by Santa Anna’s birthplace in Xalapa on 21 February 2014

In his book, “Santa Anna of Mexico” University of Nebraska Press (2007), Prof. Fowler showed that this portrayal was grossly misrepresented. Until recently, Mexican historiography had chosen not to think about the early republican period (because it was too painful), and, when it had, blamed Santa Anna for everything that went wrong after independence. This included Mexico’s defeat in 1848 – mistakenly claiming Santa Anna lost the conflict on purpose, and the traumatic loss of half of the country’s territory to the United States, which Santa Anna was erroneously [and deliberately] purported to have sold.

Prof. Fowler’s book has resulted in a public questioning of Mexico’s “official history”, helping to understand the country’s present and to clarify its past, the details of which were extensively publicised as part of the Bicentenary of the War of Independence in 2010. The descendants of Santa Anna, who no longer feel ashamed of their ancestor, have become actively engaged in public engagements. Recent extraordinary developments have meant that Santa Anna is being honoured in santanista events.

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