Tejano Roots

Some say it’s been twelve years in the making, others say it’s taken 200, but on March 29, the wait ended when the Tejano Monument was installed on the south grounds of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The first and only Latino-themed statue at the Capitol, the monument tells the story of Latinos in Texas, in verse as well as bronze.

“There are five, 300-word essays at the foot of the monument, detailing Tejano history, that had to be vetted by the State Preservation Board, as well as seven statues depicting who we are and where we came from as Tejanos,” explains Renato Ramirez, one of five Latino leaders who took on the project twelve years ago.

As the story goes, Dr. Cayetano Barrera, a family physician in McAllen, Texas, first conceived the project in the summer of 2000, after attending a medical seminar in Austin and driving through the Capitol grounds. It struck him that something was missing so he called Richard Sanchez, a nephew and then chief of staff for State Representative Ismael “Kino” Flores, and asked if he knew of any statues or monuments on the grounds that resembled “us.” When Sanchez reply in the negative, the idea to rectify that situation was born. Sanchez and Barrera, a historian by hobby, reached out to Homero Vera, writer and historian, Andrés Tijerina, professor of history, and Ramirez, CEO and chairman of the board of IBC Bank.

“When they came to me, it was just a good idea but they had no money. My skill is fundraising. I told them I would take care of the money and moving the people in Austin,” shares Ramirez. “Plus, I’m a pit bull when I take on a project. I won’t let go until I see it completed. That said, I didn’t think it would take this long.”

There were many roadblocks, beginning with the State Preservation Board that objected to certain facts included in the essays as well as the site location. History is at the crux of this project. Tejano roots run deep in this state, yet school children in Texas have missed the stories of heroes like Juan Seguin, José Antonio Navarro, or José de Escandón. “One hope we have is that Latino visitors will be inspired to get to know more about their own history,” admits Ramirez.

As for the site location, the south-facing grounds of the Capitol are considered the official entrance and where other monuments are located. The committee was told that there was a moratorium on placing any additional monuments on the south grounds and that it was non-negotiable.

“I responded, “That’s OK. We can change that,” and we did. We got a bill passed to allow one more monument, ours,” chuckles Ramirez.

Even the monument’s design needed tweaking. The current design by artist Armando Hinojosa, with seven bronze statues arranged on a rock carved from a single piece of granite, is not the original. The first plan included the same figures: the explorer to show where Tejano history begins, a vaquero on a horse guiding two longhorns, to show Tejano roots in modern ranching, and a Tejano family of five to point to the future. But they were arranged differently.

Approached for his advice, Austin architect Jaime Beaman admits: “My first response when I saw it was, ‘Oh, no.’ It looked like a Roman temple with arches and the vaquero up on top so that all people would see as they approached was the horse’s belly. I told them, ‘This is not right.’”<

He worked with the design committee to produce the current plan. “Once we came up with the rock, the design began to evolve to help arrange the figures and tell the Tejano story the right way,” asserts Beaman.

As for fundraising, the major obstacle, or disappointment, admits Ramirez, has come from Latino organizations and professionals, who have yet to contribute. He was more successful with corporate donations, like Wal-Mart, which contributed $100,000 to create teaching modules, the IBC, which gave $200,000, and personal friends, one in Long Island and one in Mexico City who contributed $10,000 each. The Ramirez family contributed $120,000. So far, he’s raised $1 million dollars to match the state’s allocation of $1.87 million.

In Austin, the monument has already energized the local community. The Tejano Geneological Society of Austin held a daylong historical as well as two dances, and a parade. “This is more than a statue,” says Dan Arellano, the group’s president. “It’s a monument with a message and it says: “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos.”


Valerie Menard