Statewide effort hits close to home, heart for Victoria's de Leon descendant

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

March 27, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated March 27, 2012 at 10:28 p.m.

Blanche de Leon and her family have been instrumental in the erection of a Tejano Monument at the state Capitol in Austin. The monument will be the only monument honoring Tejano culture and history. De Leon referred to it as a "visual acknowledgement of the history" of her people.

Blanche de Leon and her family have been instrumental in the erection of a Tejano Monument at the state Capitol in Austin. The monument will be the only monument honoring Tejano culture and history. De Leon referred to it as a "visual acknowledgement of the history" of her people.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

Blanche de Leon wants to be as honest and forthcoming as possible.

"The people you really need to talk to are in Goliad," said the 58-year-old descendant of Martin de Leon, Victoria's founder.

After all, the Victoria resident has been involved in the push for a Tejano Monument at the state Capitol only about two of the 12 years that at least four Goliadians devoted to the project.

Even so, it is her family's signature cattle brand, "Espiritu de Jesus" or "Spirit of Jesus," that one of the statues on the monument will be carrying.

For de Leon, when the monument is unveiled Thursday, two emotions will run through her veins: pride in being Tejana and an even stronger burning passion to fulfill her late father's wish of having a monument honoring local history in Victoria.

Being Tejana

Blanche de Leon places the rolled-up laminated map onto the kitchen table.

"These were all the land grants," said the Citizens Medical Center registered nurse, pointing at certain areas of the map, eyes gleaming.

Her hand, smoothing out the unwrapped map, appears to possess magic powers - leaving in its wake a long-gone world of what de Leon's colony once looked like.

The map was created by de Leon's cousin, John Foester, a 43-year-old geologist from Port Lavaca.

Foester's mother had started much of the research, but Foester went further back. Foester, along with four other descendants from the de Leon line, will be unveiling the statue on the monument that is simply called, "the couple."

The man and woman stand close together; the man holds the Espiritu de Jesus cattle brand.

William and Estela Zermeno, a Goliad couple who have been involved in the push for a Tejano Monument, contacted de Leon about having the cattle brand somehow incorporated into the monument. De Leon and Foester were immediately on board.

"It's definitely an honor," Foester said. "Basically, the state of Texas is recognizing these pioneer families of Tejano descent. They were early on helping create the early infrastructure."

Foester finds the acknowledgement of this history as powerful for future generations, including his high school and elementary school-age daughters.

"I don't want to live in the accomplishments of our ancestors. It's important to live out their ideals."

This rings true for de Leon, as well.

For de Leon, being Tejano means being a person of Spanish descent whose ancestors were originally from Spain.

Tejano history is important, and de Leon said she felt the history never came across in grade school.

Even today, she feels that teaching Victoria's beginnings, even the history long before her ancestors, has vanished.

The key to Victoria's success does not lie in building the city into a mini-metropolis, but rather going back to its roots and embracing it, as she did 10 years ago.

"It would be the history that would bring people here" to Victoria, she said.

History in the making

For now, de Leon can only imagine what Thursday morning on the South Lawn of the Capitol will feel like when the 12-piece monument is unveiled.

"It's probably going to be breathtaking," she said. "All you've ever seen is drawings. And these will be human-sized."

Already, de Leon knows that when she sees the monument, she will see a couple portrayed there as Martin de Leon and his wife, Patricia.

The truth is, though, that couple symbolizes for Tejanos whoever you want it to be.

"I see it as all Tejanos," she said. "Even with our brand, it's not like the brand stands for Martin de Leon. It stands for value, and that value was religion."

Taking your place in history is all about navigating barriers, something de Leon said she has realized.

She believes now is the time to embrace diversity and for Tejanos to take their place in history.

"I think my dad would be so excited to see a Tejano monument with our brand standing on the Capitol," she said.

Keeps passion burning

There is something youthful about de Leon's personality.

Perhaps it's that this salt-and-pepper-haired woman remains young at heart when it comes to her family's almost 200-year-long history in Victoria.

After her parents died in 2002, she grew to realize the importance of her heritage.

"To honor my parents is why I embraced the history," de Leon said.

Uncovering this ancestry little by little piqued de Leon's interest in Texas history.

In the 1980s, de Leon's father, Wence, raised about $60,000 to erect a statue in the name of Martin de Leon.

Martin de Leon created de Leon's Colony in 1824 and named it Victoria; she and her ancestor are six generations apart.

Finding land and having someone create a statue became such hard work and, ultimately, the Martin de Leon statue or monument was never created.

"I made it a mission to honor my father and to get that monument," de Leon said.

Having a statue in the area is something that will take time, but it's definitely on de Leon's radar. She would like to see it near the Guadalupe River because that's where Martin de Leon settled.

The project she estimates would cost about $200,000 - a far cry from the $2 million spent on the Tejano Monument.

Seeing the push from Goliadians like Benny Martinez, William and Estela Zermeno. and Emilio Vargas has shown that it's never too late to make history.

In all, the process in getting a monument took about 12 years.

Because her parents are no longer here, de Leon has taken Martinez as a role model.

"He's who I want to be when I grow up," she said, smiling.

Martinez's passion and success have taught de Leon a lot about the process of getting a statue. If anything, she said, it's more about politics than it is money.

"The forefathers of the Tejano Monument started, and they did not stop, until it was done," she said, defiantly.



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