The narrator of this story is named Rudy, but when he performs as a dancer behind the Alamo theater in Texas on Thursday nights, he becomes Tristán. As the piece progresses, he refers to himself only as Tristán, slipping into the third-person as if watching himself from afar. Between the paragraphs of his narrative run a long list of names: “Gustavo Galindo, Ernie Sepúlveda, Jessie Robles, Jr., Ronnie DeHoyos, Christine Zamora….” These names sit alongside his descriptions of his own act, and he neither explains nor addresses their existence.
At the outset of “Remember the Alamo,” the inclusion of this long list of names is difficult to understand. Later, though, it becomes clear that Tristán is gay and that he seems to have some kind of terminal illness. Given that Woman Hollering Creek was published in the early 1990s—as the AIDS death toll in the US continued to rise at an alarming rate—readers can reasonably assume that these are the names of people who have died during the AIDS epidemic, which began in full force in 1981. This haunting presence serves an important role in the entire collection, since this is a book interested in exploring the various ups and downs of love—while other stories have examined the negative consequences of abusive love, “Remember the Alamo” reminds readers that consensual love is unfortunately not without its own possible dangers.
When Tristán was a child, he explains, he used to listen to rice pop and sizzle in hot oil, and he’d bow and blow kisses to an imaginary crowd. These days, he dances at the Travisty behind the Alamo Mission—“One-man show, girl. Flamenco, salsa, tango, fandango, merengue, cumbia, cha-cha-chá. Don’t forget. The Travisty. Remember the Alamo.”
During the Texas Revolution, when Mexico and the US vied for control of Texas, a religious mission in San Antonio known as the Alamo was seized from Texan troops by Mexican forces after 13 days of battling for its control. As such, the Alamo is a cultural landmark that represents San Antonio’s fraught multicultural identity. The fact that Tristán dances behind a landmark so laden with meaning lends gravity to his story of coming to terms with his own identity as a Mexican-American gay man.
When Tristán dances, the crowd “throb[s]” along with him, watching as he twirls La Calaca Flaca—the skinny skeleton—in his arms. As he dances with Death herself, the crowd is mesmerized; “Tristán takes the fag hag by the throat and throttles her senseless. Tristán’s not afraid of La Flaquita, Thin Death.” He notes that his family loves him “no matter what” and that his mother’s proud of his fame. His sisters are jealous of how pretty he is, but they also adore him, and even his father—skeptical at first of his feminine dancing—sends newspaper clippings of him to relatives in Mexico. Tristán lives the fast, wild life of an entertainer and isn’t afraid of tough guys at bars who ask him if he’s a fag.
In most of the stories in Woman Hollering Creek, identity is examined in terms of cultural or national concerns. While this dynamic is certainly at play in “Remember the Alamo”—considering the national and cultural history surrounding the Alamo—the story’s main consideration has to do with Tristán’s identity as a gay man. The fact that he dances with Death in a highly performative manner aligns with the notion that slowly dying of AIDS in the 1990s often revealed a man’s homosexuality, since most people at the time associated the illness with gay men.
Tristán’s dance with Death expands throughout the narrative as he speaks to her (Death) like a lover. He feels best, he says, when he’s dancing with her in front of everybody at the Travisty—in these moments he doesn’t have to think about “hospital bills or bloody sheets.” What he wants is a love “that is never used to hurt anybody. Never ashamed.” Addressing the audience directly, he says, “Say it. Say you want me. Te quiero. Like I want you. Say you love me. Like I love you. I love you. Te quiero, mi querido público. Te adoro. With all my heart. With my heart and with my body.” After a particularly long list of names, he ends his narrative with two words: “This body.”
When Tristán asserts that he yearns for a kind of love that can’t be used to “hurt anybody,” a love void of “shame,” he evokes and condemns the stigma surrounding AIDS and homosexuality. By drawing attention to his “body,” he reminds readers of his humanity, pointing out that AIDS is like any other illness—a physical ailment and nothing more.