SAN ANTONIO – An award-winning documentary by filmmaker Ellen Brodsky, "25 Texans in the Land of Lincoln," which was released last spring, follows the journey of 25 history students from St. Mary's University.
Their professor, Teresa Van Hoy, said their mission three years ago had a dual purpose.
They made the more than 1,000-mile journey by bus to try to repatriate a prosthetic leg back to Mexico. The leg belonged to Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who is known for leading the bloody 1836 defeat of Texians inside the Alamo.
Van Hoy said that, more than a decade later, Santa Anna left his leg behind when a regiment of the Illinois infantry defeated his troops during the U.S.-Mexico War. It has been in the possession of the Illinois State Military Museum.
The documentary captures the chilly reception the St. Mary's University delegation was given.
For Eddie Paniagua, one of Van Hoy's students, the mission was personal. He said that, since he was a child, he has been told that he's a descendant of the notorious Mexican general and former president of Mexico.
Paniagua, a senior at St. Mary's University, said much can be learned from history.
"Regardless of how ugly it may be or how beautiful it may be, let's just talk about it so we can do better moving forward," he said.
The students also built an ofrenda, or altar, to President Abraham Lincoln in front of the Illinois State Capitol building, which drew curious stares from onlookers.
Van Hoy said it served to make people aware of the little-known fact that Lincoln felt solidarity with Mexico.
"Not only in the 1860s when Mexico was being invaded by the French, but also in the 1840s when Mexico was being invaded by the United States," Van Hoy said.
Because Lincoln believed in the Monroe Doctrine, which states the U.S. would protect republics in the Americas, Van Hoy said, "They called him the Apostle of Peace in the Americas."