When Tejanos José Antonio Navarro, José Francisco Ruiz, and Lorenzo de Zavala signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836, they probably had no idea how long it would take for their efforts and those of their fellow Tejanos to be officially, and visually, recognized.
Maybe they didn't care, they were at war after all, but now, 176 years later and almost five centuries after Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda finished mapping the Texas coast, Tejanos are finally being publicly recognized by the state.
At 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 29, legislators, artists, educators, historians and the descendants of the first Tejano families in Texas gathered to celebrate the unveiling of the Tejano Monument. The sculpture, created by celebrated painter, sculptor and educator, Armando Hinojosa, now occupies a privileged space on the Texas Capitol grounds and stands as visual recognition of Tejano culture and its contributions to Texas' history and development.
While Texas and Tejanos have a common history that started over 200 years ago, it's the last twelve years that have been crucial when it comes to the monument. First conceived by Dr. Cayetano Barrera during the summer of 2000, the dream of a monument would have to go through many stages to become a reality.
"I believe this statue is not just another statue, it is one that makes a statement: aquí estamos y no nos vamos."
Renato Ramirez, Vice President of the Tejano Monument Board of Directors, explained in an article published in News Taco that the monument was “born” on June 15, 2001 when Governor Rick Perry signed HCR-38 authorizing the statue’s creation.
Sponsored by State Representative Ismael “Kino” Flores, HCR-38 opened the doors to the project but provided no funding. Six years later, the 80th Legislature approved some money but not all of it and the Tejano Monument Board of Directors spent the next few years raising an additional $800,000 in private donations.
On Thursday morning, Dr. Cayetano Barrera's vision came to fruition in front of hundreds of people gathered on the Capitol grounds to witness the unveiling.
Dan Arellano, president of the Tejano Genealogy Society, says the monument is a step in the right direction. "Never has there been anything that honors our ancestors in a positive way on the grounds of the Capitol," said Arellano. "We are ecstatic about it and I see it as a moment whose time has come."
Arellano and the Tejano Genealogy Society have played a vital role in the monument's long journey and are responsible for the events that surround that unveiling that will be taking place on Friday and Saturday.
"The Monument committee asked us to arrange for a conference in conjunction with the unveiling," explained Arellano. "The conference was to take place after the unveiling where scholars of Tejano History would share their knowledge with the public. Well, one thing led to another and one member said 'Okay, why don't we also have a banquet?' and yet another said 'Why don't we have a parade as well?' So, as you can imagine, we were really up to our necks but determined to somehow make it happen. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"Since we had no money and no one had experience with parades except me, with the Veterans Day parade, we decided to approach Councilman Mike Martinez and the City of Austin adopted our proposal when we told them that Austin was the host city and it should lead the way, and they did."
Governor Rick Perry was in attendance on Thursday morning and had some words to share about the historic 525 square foot structure. "If anything is worth doing, it's worth doing right — and Armando Hinojosa, you did it right," said Perry while pointing at the artist.
Featuring a family, two longhorns and a vaquero, the Tejano monument is much more than a beautiful piece or art. "I believe this statue is not just another statue, it is one that makes a statement: aquí estamos y no nos vamos," said Arellano. "As Austin grows, so does the Tejano community and I see the monument as one that will unite us and help restore our self-identity."
Texas and the history of Tejanos go hand in hand, it seems like the monument is the first step toward the acceptance and teaching of a real, integrated and honest history of Texas.
Arellano also sees the Tejano monument, which will be used as a teaching tool in the new Tejano Curriculum being developed by The University of Texas at Austin, as a way to reclaim history. "First there was the Ken Burns documentary with the exclusion of Mexican Americans and the State Board of Education's attempts to remove Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from the curriculum; if we had allowed that trend to continue we may have had all of our history erased, just as if we never existed."
Echoing Arellano during the unveiling, State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, who performed as master of ceremonies, said the monument looked as if it had always been there and that it should be exactly so because Tejanos are "a part of Texas History and it is a part of us."
The Tejano Monument tells a story more than 170 years in the making. It proudly tells a story that has been minimized in classrooms and history books. Judging by the plethora of standing ovations and the passionate clapping that accompanied declarations made in both English and Spanish about how Texas and the history of Tejanos go hand in hand, it seems like the monument is the first step toward the acceptance and teaching of a real, integrated and honest history of Texas.
A Tejano Historical Conference will be held on Friday, March 30, 2012 at the State Capitol. The conference is open to the public based on seating availability. Opening ceremonies will be held at 9:00 a.m. with break out sessions from 10:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
On Saturday, March 31, 2012, the Tejano Genealogy Society will have a parade in celebration of the unveiling. Titled Nosotros Los Tejanos Parade, the procession will traverse Congress Avenue from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. For more information, you can visit the Tejano Genealogy Society's official site here.