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Texas officials unveil Tejano Monument at state Capitol

March 29, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Workers erect a monument at the Texas Capitol to Tejano settlers, Spanish and Mexican explorers who trailblazed what would become the Lone Star State.
Workers erect a monument at the Texas Capitol to Tejano settlers, Spanish… (Will Weissert )

Houston — Officials gathered Thursday on the grounds of the Texas Capitol for the unveiling of the state’s Tejano Monument, 11 life-size bronze statues crafted by Laredo artist Armando Hinojosa commemorating the contributions of Texas’ Spanish and Mexican settlers.

Gov. Rick Perry, who attended the unveiling, said the monument "reflects a larger truth about the origins of Texas, about the contributions of so many Hispanic citizens to the creation of the state we love."

Just before the ceremony, the Los Angeles Times spoke with Emilio Zamora, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, about the 12-year effort to build the monument and its significance. Zamora is working on a curriculum project that will use the monument as an educational tool for Texas students.

Q: Where does the word “Tejano” come from?

A: The way the people who have been involved in constructing the monument describe “Tejano” is that it is the direct translation of Texan into Spanish. It is the most popular term of reference by Mexican people in Texas who have long-lasting ties to the land. It’s basically a regional self-reference by people who see themselves as people of the soil, descendants of settlers in this area in the 16, 17, 1800s.

Q: What does it mean to be “Tejano” as opposed to Mexican American?

A: “Tejano” is a regional variant of Mexican American or Mexicano, akin to Californiano and Nuevo Mexicano.

Q: Californiano?

A: Well, it’s not used. The most popular term among Mexican people in the southwest is “Tejano,” in part because people have been careful to preserve the past.

Q: Why did organizers focus on building this monument?

A: There is nothing else like it on the Capitol grounds, that the state recognize the Mexican American community and lend legitimacy to their claims on the soil. That in many ways is a response to the conventional under-representation of Mexican people in U.S. history.

Q: Why was it important to build the monument in Austin?

A: The Capitol grounds are one of the most popular sites for tourists, in state and out of state, as well as visits by public school students. It’s the most popular destination for people interested in learning something about Texas history.

Q: Is the location of the monument significant, and why did organizers fight for it to be on the south lawn?

A: Yes, it’s very prominently placed in the most important part of the grounds, which is practically the front of the state Capitol building. There are statues all around the grounds, but the front has a few statues. It’s one of the most attractive parts of the grounds.

Q: What does the monument look like?

A: It’s really several statues in one. It’s built over several slabs of granite from the same quarry that they used to build the Texas Capitol. Atop the statue is an explorer with his hand up looking in the distance. Next to him is a vaquero, a Mexican cowboy, sitting on a beautiful horse. The structure also includes a man and a woman looking at each other and under them are a boy and a girl, so in addition to depicting the exploration and settlement experiences of early Tejano history, the board decided along with the artist to present a family portrait.

Q: Monuments in the Texas capital have proved controversial — Gov. [George W.] Bushhad Confederate plaques removed from the state Supreme Court and replaced with plaques touting equal justice for all Texan. Will the Tejano Monument cause a stir in Texas?

A: The view of the board is that this will complement the conventional treatment of Tejano history and help them to provide a more complete and fair rendering of the history of the state.

Q: Are there any other Tejano monuments?

A: In other parts of the state, yes. There are important monuments in San Antonio and Goliad, but there are very few and none are so prominently displayed as this.

Q: I heard the monument cost more than $2 million, about half paid for by the state, the rest through donations. Who paid for it?

A: The money came from an appropriations bill in the Legislature and private donations.

Q: How will the Tejano Monument be used to educate people?

A: The hope is that first of all, the guides in the state capital can be fully informed about the meaning, the Tejano experience and how to interpret it, so that when children are brought in with their families, they can be provided with a reliable interpretation that they can take back to their classrooms and their homes.

Part of the curriculum project is to start with six classes of fourth graders, to teach them about Tejano history. Then we hope to hold workshops throughout the state to encourage teachers to use the curriculum, too.

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