McALLEN — An excerpt from Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason hit Dr. Cayetano Barrera one day and brought everything into perspective.
Eight years ago Barrera, a McAllen physician and self-described history buff, began a push to place a monument on the state Capitol grounds in Austin commemorating the seldom-told story of the Tejano settlers — the Spanish and Mexican people and their descendants who shaped modern-day Texas.
To Barrera, this was a history that had been neglected and omitted from the textbooks and public consciousness for far too long.
“‘…Time makes more converts than reason,’” Barrera quoted from the Age of Reason in his wood-paneled office recently. “It was not fashionable to have Spanish and Mexican history in our books. This, I don’t think, could have happened 30 years ago. But times change.”
Barrera’s original idea and push for the monument grew as he spoke to more and more people who agreed with his sentiments. In January, the state Historical Preservation Board approved the site and design of the monument, the final legislative hurdle in the arduous effort to place it on the Capitol’s historic south grounds.
But the work of Barrera, the nonprofit he started for the movement and the several state legislators involved is far from done.
A large portion of the monument is finished in clay, but still needs to be bronzed, Barrera said. The Tejano Monument Inc. still has to raise more than $500,000 to cover any cost over-runs for the bronze casting, insurance for the monument and the eventual unveiling ceremony, which could draw thousands of people, said the group’s co-Vice President Renato Ramirez.
Barrera said the monument could be erected and unveiled as early as late July 2011.
“All we did was get past the paper work,” said Andres Tijerina, a history professor at Austin Community College and another co-vice president, about January’s long-awaited vote. “We still have as big of a project to do now. Now we really got to start to build the thing.”
The idea of the monument first came about after Tijerina gave a speech about Tejano history at the University of Texas-Pan American in November 2002. Barrera approached Tijerina afterward to tell him that he, too, had felt for years there should be more public recognition for Tejano history.
The next time they met, they agreed to begin work on placing the monument on the Capitol grounds. Neither of them had any idea just how much time and work it would require.
“It’s been very gratifying but, on the other hand, very trying,” Tijerina said. “It’s not something one would want to do twice in their lifetime.”
The two then began to amass the political and financial connections necessary for the huge task. Barrera’s nephew, Richard Sanchez, was state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores’, D-Mission, chief-of-staff at the time and provided the political ins. Flores filed the first legislation in 2001 for the creation of the monument.
The bill passed, the nonprofit was formed and fundraising for the $1.6 million project began. Large private donations came from the IBC Bank in Zapata, run by Ramirez, and other businesses totaling about $1 million.
But two other large obstacles stood in the way after the massive fundraising effort. A law needed to be enacted in the Legislature in 2006 in order to release the remaining $600,000 for the project, which had to be taken from federal highway funds.
Another big road block was overturning a law that prohibited any additional monuments from being placed on the Capitol’s front lawn, the historic south grounds — the most prominent spot which Barrera and the organizers sought. Originally, the preservation board suggested another site on the Capitol grounds already crowded with other statues and monuments.
“As one of our board members said, ‘After the 1960s, I’m never going to the back again.’ It involved that sensitivity of being asked to go to the back again after 150 years of neglect,” Tijerina said. “As ominous and daunting as that law appeared to us, there was never any possible consideration that we would accept it.”
Gov. Rick Perry signed into law in May 2009 a measure that allowed the monument on the Capitol’s historic south grounds. The preservation board gave the monument’s site and design the final OK in January.
The monument — designed by Laredo sculptor and artist Armando Hinojosa — will consist of an oval, multi-tiered granite base with an array of life-sized bronze statues that include a Tejano on horseback, a settler family and an early Spanish explorer, as well as a longhorn and a mustang.
It will also have five bronze plaques that will describe several features of Tejano heritage and their contributions to the Texas Revolution, the state’s economy, culture and long history of ranching — all distinctive Texas traits whose origin has not been recognized, Tijerina and Barrera said.
And though the idea began with Barrera and Tijerina, both are quick to point out that a multitude of businessmen, officials and legislators statewide from both parties — and several from the Rio Grande Valley — were receptive to the project and unanimous in their support.
“When young children and families see it, I’m wondering who they will be seeing,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the state’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest. “The historical figures, their parents, grandparents and all their ancestors who have broken their backs to make this state what it is today.”
Nick Pipitone covers McAllen, PSJA, the Mid-Valley and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4446.