EDINBURG, March 29 - It is a little known fact but the idea to build a monument honoring the heritage and contributions of Tejanos at the Texas state Capitol in Austin was born at the University of Texas-Pan American.
The historic Tejano Monument will be officially unveiled by Gov. Rick Perry on the south lawn of the state Capitol at 10 a.m. today. It is the first monument to recognize the contributions of Tejanos at the Capitol.
“The idea for the Monument was born here at the University of Texas-Pan American in 1998, when we had our first Spanish Colonial Texas Symposium,” said Dr. Lino Garcia, professor emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA.
“Our symposium had just finished and Dr. Cayetano Barrera, Professor Andres Tijerina, Enrique Guerra and I went to eat. Someone, I think it was Cayetano Barrera, said, ‘we do not have a monument. We have got to have a symbol, something people can see. We can hear speakers and we can have this symposium, but we do not have anything that is concrete, where people can say, what is that and the story can then start to unfold’.”
Professor Tijerina, a professor of history at Austin Community College, remembers the occasion also.
“The concept of a monument was born here on this campus,” Tijerina said, referring to UTPA. “Dr. Barrera approached me right after I was giving a speech, at the founding session of this Spanish Colonial Texas Symposium. We did not stop talking until late into the night. We drew up a pact that we were going to put up a monument.”
Tijerina wrote the script for five bronze plaques that adorn the Tejano Monument at the Capitol. It is one of the largest monuments on any state Capitol grounds in the country. It has ten statues and five bronze plaques of text that tell the story of the heritage and contributions of Spanish and Mexican Texans.
Tijerina was at UTPA on Tuesday for Garcia’s latest Spanish Colonial Texas Symposium, along with Tejano historian Joe Lopez of San Antonio. Tijerina has had such a busy week preparing for official unveiling of the monument in Austin that he did not think he could fit in a visit to Edinburg. “That was until I remembered that it was because of Dr. Garcia, it was because of this campus, it was because of this university, that we have a Tejano Monument,” he said.
Tijerina said that as part of the recognition process that Tejanos have played a pivotal role in the development of Texas, tour guides at the state Capitol will use the script he has written for the Monument’s bronze plaques.
“All the people from now on who go through the Capitol, all the children and tourists, will always get the Tejano story,” Tijerina said. “The Monument states that Tejanos did exist in Texas and they did make the contributions of all those features that make us all proud to be Texans - the longhorns, the mustangs, the cowboy, all of that. It was by the founders of Texas. Tejanos are not immigrants. They are the natives and the founders of Texas.”
Asked how significant the Tejano Monument is, Garcia predicted it will be a liberating symbol for all Texans.
“It liberates everybody, including everybody who has had false notions about Tejanos. They have been liberated from things that were negative. Texas is going be majority Hispanic. Other ethnicities are going to be marrying Hispanics, they might as well get to know who they are,” Garcia said.
Garcia said interest in Tejano history is growing rapidly as people begin to realize the true history of Texas. He said his columns are now being published in four or five major newspapers, including the Rio Grande Guardian and the San Antonio Express-News.
“This is a Tejano Movement. We are not turning back. It is going so fast now that I am publishing in four or five different newspapers. Our story is being read by millions of people. Even the Texas Monthly is listening. Their previous editor, Evan Smith, called me because I objected to some of the things they were saying and he promised me they would have an accurate history of Texas in the Texas Monthly. They have begun to do so. They have talked about Juan Seguin, they have talked about the Balli family,” Garcia said.
Garcia, who has been teaching at UTPA and its predecessors since 1967, said he is proud to have played a small part in establishing a Tejano Monument at the state Capitol.
“It has been a long road but here we are now, 2012, and we have the Monument. It is history in the making. I am proud it was born here at UTPA and I am happy to have played a small part in getting people together, which is what it takes, the energy of people merging, coming up with ideas,” he said.
Garcia concluded his interview with the Guardian by saying the Tejano Monument is really for the children.
“It is for the children, the future generations of Texas, whether they be Tejanos, Anglos, African Americans, Orientals. They need to know our history because it liberates them. It helps them survive in a Hispanic-oriented majority, 21st Century Texas.”
“Just as the murals in Mexico that tell their history, our Monument will tell our history. It is a message that we have been here forever and we are not leaving,” Garcia said.