Friday, January 17, 2014
Saving Our Stories is Imporant | Last Word
San Antonio is well known for its flamboyant fights over saving buildings.
Conservationists win some – for example, the Alamo – and lose some – Univision’s KWEX building.
In 1908 Adina De Zavala, historian and a founder of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, locked herself in the Alamo’s Long Barracks and defied a court order and the sheriff for three days in a successful effort to save the structure as part of the Alamo compound.
More recently eight protestors were arrested for unsuccessfully trying to block the demolition of the downtown KWEX building.
Last week we learned from Heywood Sanders, writing for the Current newspaper, that San Antonio had quietly avoided a skirmish as important to our history as saving a building.
Beginning February 1, the hours and the staff of the Texana and Genealogy Department at San Antonio’s Main Library were to be cut in half.
It’s not as though the staff is bloated, with just four members.
Two of the staffers, included the department head, were said to be on the chopping block.
A library spokeswoman says the changes, based on the city-approved budget, were only under discussion and not final.
But sources say only intervention by Councilman Diego Bernal forestalled the cuts.
The department, said spokeswoman Caitlin Cowart, is safe for the fiscal year ending this fall.
She said the foundation that raises money to supplement tax funding for the library has been asked to find funds for the Texana department.
Saving buildings is important.
But saving our stories is even more so.
The same can be said of saving the historical materials that help us tell, verify and amplify our stories.
The library’s 6th-floor Texana room – a very pleasant place to visit due to a grant from Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, and his wife Joan – is a major resource for San Antonio history.
Materials range from census and cemetery records to City Council minutes dating back to 1837, to theater archives and African-American funeral programs.
As the department’s website notes, no comprehensive history of San Antonio has been written.
I wish the late Ted Fehrenbach had marshaled his legendary skills to produce a local version of his great history of Texas.
But when that history is written, its author will rely heavily on the resources of the library’s Texana department – if we succeed in keeping it on more than life support.
If there is no comprehensive history of San Antonio, there is a growing number of important histories of various components and cultures of the city.
Most recently is “The Harness Maker's Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas.”
The fascinating history of the Kallison family and San Antonio’s Jewish community is written by Nick Kotz, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the Washington Post and the author of numerous books.
He is the grandson of Nathan Kallison, who escaped czartist Russia and made his way to San Antonio, and Kotz’s pride shows through, as do his skills as a researcher and a writer.
A year earlier, Maria Antonietta Berriozabal gave us “Maria, Daughter of Immigrants.”
The memoir is an important account of a period of tumult and growth by the community activist and long-time city councilwoman.
Unfortunately, my copy just this week fell victim to a rat who invaded my office here at KLRN and ate the binding off the book.
Left untouched, right next to Berriozabal on the bookshelf, was Bill Clinton’s “My Life.”
Why would the rat go after Berriozabal rather than Clinton?
I know what some of you are thinking … Professional courtesy?