Members of Texas' oldest families on Thursday unveiled the first monument on the Capitol grounds honoring the contributions of Tejanos, the Spanish-speaking settlers who brought European and cowboy culture to the state.
Mariachi bands played traditional Tejano songs on the Statehouse's historic south lawn during a ceremony highlighting the monument, which at 525 square feet is among the largest on the Capitol grounds. Bronze statues mounted on a 250-ton slab of pink granite depict a Spanish explorer, a vaquero (a Mexican cowboy) on his mustang, a longhorn bull and cow, and a family of settlers.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the first Hispanic woman elected to the state Senate, praised the lawmakers who helped pass legislation that made the monument possible. She also thanked the private contributors who helped design and fund the sculpture by Laredo artist Armando Hinojosa, a descendant of Laredo founder Don Tomas Sanchez.
"The history of Texas is the history of Tejanos," Zaffirini said in both Spanish and English.
Andres Tijerina, the keynote speaker at the ceremony and an expert on Tejano history at Austin Community College, described how Tejanos settled Texas 150 years before the first Anglos came to the Spanish territory. He explained how cowboys, ranching and much of modern Texas culture and language originated with the early Tejano settlers along the Rio Grande and the Gulf Coast and were adopted by Anglo immigrants.
The Tejano monument "is a testament to the legacy of the modern Texas and the living Tejanos who are here with you," Tijerina said. "It is because they are Texans that Tejanos come here today to claim moreover their place in the future of Texas."
Descendants of the first Tejano settlers and founders of modern Texas unveiled four of the monument's seven bronze statues Thursday. The monument is located about 100 feet behind one honoring the Civil War and including a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Originally, the Tejano monument was to be placed behind the Capitol, but Hispanic lawmakers pushed for the more prominent location through special legislation.
Texans are proud of the state's history under six different nations, including Spain and Mexico, but historians complain that too much attention is given to English-speaking leaders when Tejanos also led the fight. This monument will help reverse that, Tijerina said.
The creation of the monument also coincides with the rising political importance of Tejanos. Whites now make up less than 50 percent of the Texas population. Hispanics currently make up more than 50 percent of young people in the state and by some estimates Hispanics are to make up the majority by 2025.
Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst attended the ceremony and praised Tejanos for their past and continuing contributions to Texas.
"This important monument reflects a larger truth about the origins of Texas, about the contributions of so many Hispanic citizens to the creation of the state we love and the lives we share," Perry said. "The future of our state is tied directly to the future of our Hispanic population, and I believe we have a glorious future ahead of us."