Goliad residents join hundreds to celebrate end of long journey for Tejano Monument

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

March 29, 2012 at 8:04 p.m.
Updated April 6, 2012 at 11:07 p.m.

Benny Martinez of Goliad bends down to kiss the Tejano Monument as a tribute to the efforts to recognize Tejano heritage in South Texas. The monument was unveiled Thursday in a ceremony on the state Capitol grounds in Austin.

Benny Martinez of Goliad bends down to kiss the Tejano Monument as a tribute to the efforts to recognize Tejano heritage in South Texas. The monument was unveiled Thursday in a ceremony on the state Capitol grounds in Austin.

AUSTIN - "This land is your land, this land is my land."

The patriotic lyrics by Woody Guthrie are words some Tejanos have long believed in - but the words have never rung as true as on the south lawn of the state Capitol on Thursday morning.

Benny Martinez sat front row center, itching to get a full look at the eight tarp-covered statues on the 525-square-foot Tejano Monument.

"I've got pressure on my chest," Martinez said, lightly patting his hand over his chest before the unveiling. "I can't express the joy in my heart."

Hundreds gathered on the south lawn behind Martinez, staring at the bright granite foundation, catching only a glimpse of bronze statues beneath the tarps.

"I think we've got a bunch of people from Goliad," said Dr. Cayetano Barrera, the president of the Tejano Monument board of directors, to the crowd.

Martinez stood up, removing his straw hat and waving it over the crowd as he bowed humbly.

Martinez waited for this moment for 12 years.

To be Texan is to be Tejano

Martinez, along with three other Goliadians - William and Estela Zermeno and Emilio Vargas - have been instrumental in the monument's erection.

The descendants of Martin de Leon, the founder of Victoria, became involved more recently when they were approached about having their family's cattle brand incorporated into the monument.

Everything Vargas wore Thursday said Tejano. He was clad in dark-washed blue Wranglers and a red-frilled tie.

For him, the moment was truly momentous.

"This proves that no mission is too difficult and no sacrifice is too great," he said.

Several speakers congratulated those involved in the concerted effort to have a Tejano Monument.

Gov. Rick Perry appeared, along with Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Justice Eva Guzman, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Cinthia Salinas, of the University of Texas College of Education Program and Andres Tijerina, a professor at Austin Community College.

Tijerina managed to entice the crowd into a frenzy as he said Texas history is Tejano history.

He offered a quick history of how names of rivers and places in Texas came from the early settlers.

The Mexican-Tejano culture is so ingrained in Texas that people, no matter what their race, fail to see it in their own lives, Tijerina said. This is what is called Tex-Mex, he said, and it ranges from anything such as food to Spanish phrases even non-Spanish speaking people understand.

"This is why a Texan today, he gets in a car called a 'pinto' or 'bronco,' and he drives down a street he calls 'Guadalupe,' and he crosses a river named 'Colorado,' and he sits on a 'patio' next to a 'corral' and eats his 'barbacoa,'" Tijerina said, sending the crowd into a roar of laughter.

As the crowd calmed down, Tijerina went on to add how the story of Tejanos had stayed silent for far too long.

"Texas is unique, and her story cannot be told without Tejanos," he said. "This monument tells the story of those Tejanos."

Blanche de Leon, a resident of Victoria and a descendant of Martin de Leon, was brought to tears during the dedication.

Several of her family members approached the covered statue of "the couple," which symbolizes the importance of family unity.

Tears welled in her eyes as the tarp slid from the bronze statue, unveiling the family cattle brand "Espiritu de Jesus."

"I'm remembering the past," she said.

Educating youth

Some of de Leon's eighth- generation descendants, from across Texas, were proud to be part of the historical moment.

Eduardo Velasco, 17, of Austin, is part of the de Leon line. Eduardo knows some of his family history, but is always learning more.

"It's really exciting," he said. "I think it's going to inspire a lot of people."

Other de Leon kids, from McAllen, attended the event. Arlette Silva, 12, and her brother Jonathan, 8, and youngest sister Vianey, 7, were all excited about being part of the moment as well.

"It feels great just being here, experiencing it," Arlette said. "I feel proud that it's part of my heritage."

"It's an honor," her brother Jonathan added.

Seeing the youth become excited about who they are inside is what the monument is about, Martinez said.

The people of the past need a place to be remembered, and the people of now and the future need a place to recognize their ancestors' efforts, he said.

This is where the Tejano Monument comes in.

"History is going to be right here," Martinez said, pointing on the ground he stood on.

As mariachis played conjunto music, people hugged and took photos in front of the fully unveiled monument.

Martinez, as well as the others involved, are glad to finally see a chapter close. He would put in another 12 years if he had to, he said.

But now that the Tejano Monument is complete, one would think Martinez is ready to settle down - wrong.

"There is always something to be done," he said with a wide smile.



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