Goliad couple helps preserve Tejano history
March 25, 2012 at 1 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2012 at 10:26 p.m.
As a little girl, Estela Zermeno grew up learning about Texas history through stories her grandmother shared.
"She told stories about Goliad history and about Refugio Hill where she was born," Zermeno said.
Zermeno remembered her grandmother as a strong and independent woman.
"She wrote a lot of letters," Zermeno recalled. "I used to ask her why she didn't like to go by her husband's name, Martinez. She would say, 'Because there are too many Martinezes. They might lose my mail.'"
Inspired by her grandmother, Zermeno, 80, said she has always had a passion for Texas history.
When then state Rep. Kino Flores invited Zermeno and her husband William Zermeno in November 2000 to participate in a project to put a monument to Tejano history on the lawn of the Texas Capitol, she was overjoyed.
"I love that letter. I will always treasure it," Zermeno said.
The Tejano Monument project was not her first effort to document Tejano history.
Her passion first turned to action when she and her husband, 84, procured grave markers for two of her great-grandfathers who fought in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
"We had to go through the archives in Washington, D.C., and then approach the Veterans Association to put up markers," she said.
Since that time, Zermeno has been instrumental in placing two more historical markers in Goliad.
While Zermeno comes up with most of the ideas for historical markers, her husband helps her see them through.
"Lots of research is involved to get the documentation to back up the historical markers," she said. "But we need to tell our history."
In addition to piecing together stories from church records, land grants, censuses and other documentation stored in courthouses and university archives, much of the history of Mexican Americans was passed down by word of mouth, William Zermeno said.
"We do the major footwork, and someone else writes the narrative for the historical marker," she said.
A historical marker to Tejano politician, Manuel Becerra, was dedicated Nov. 3, 2001, at Presidio La Bahía del Espíritu Santo, where he was born in 1762.
Becerra became an influential local politician as a citizen under three of the six flags that have flown over Texas.
Among his accomplishments, he was the first secretary elected to the city council and helped negotiate a treaty with the Coco and Karankawa Indian tribes to enhance peace and stability in the region, according to the historical marker.
In addition to his contributions to Texas history, as the great-grandfather of Paula Lozano Martinez, Becerra holds a special place in Zermeno's heart.
Zermeno's next project was a historical marker dedicated on July 15, 2006, on the courthouse lawn for Don Rafael Antonio Manchola, who named the city of Goliad.
"Nobody used to know how Goliad was named," Zermeno said. "Tourists would ask where the name came from, and who named Goliad, but nobody knew."
The name for the city of Goliad sprang from a revolutionary leader named Hidalgo. Manchola dropped the silent H and re-arranged the letters of his name to form the name Goliad in 1829.
Zermeno said she is working on a historical marker to commemorate William Carbajal - the first Mexican American admitted into Goliad High School in 1933. Carbajal graduated in 1935.
While working on the Tejano Monument, the Zermenos drove to Austin once a month for nine years to meet with a committee about the project. In the past three years, they have met in Alice.
"The state eventually gave us permission to build, but we had to raise most of our own funds," William Zermeno said.
Eventually, they got a grant from the Historical Commission to help defray some of the costs, Zermeno said.
The Zermenos helped sell miniature sculptures of the vaquero featured in the monument and requested donations from foundations to help cover the costs.
Some of the early donors did not live to see the monument erected, including one of Zermeno's cousins who lived in Goliad.
Zermeno said the unveiling of the monument is "a dream come true."
The quest to preserve Tejano history is essential for the education of future generations, William Zermeno said.
"It is a chapter of history that has been left out. We just want to be included," Zermeno said. "And that is what this Tejano Monument at the Capitol is all about."